A previous blog presented the theory of fluid and crystallized intelligence:  “Fluid intelligence involves the ability to reason and think flexibly, whereas crystallized intelligence refers to the accumulation of knowledge, facts, and skills that are acquired throughout life.” A person’s general intelligence (IQ) comprises both fluid and crystallized intelligence. Since 1932, American IQ scores have been rising from three to five points per decade. However, a recent study by Northwestern University found disturbing evidence that American intelligence is declining. “Ability scores of verbal reasoning (logic, vocabulary), matrix reasoning (visual problem solving, analogies), and letter and number series (computational/mathematical) dropped during the study period, but scores of 3D rotation (spatial reasoning) generally increased from 2011 to 2018.” 

Some researchers compare verbal and educational ability to crystallized intelligence because these skills increase with time. They characterize spatial skills, including image rotation, as fluid intelligence. Thus, the research results indicate that abilities associated with education, such as verbal skills and math, have decreased.  The steepest declines occurred for ages 18–22 and lower levels of education.

The study’s co-author, Elizabeth Dworak, stated that she doesn’t want people to think that “Americans are getting less intelligent.” She postulates, It could just be that they’re getting worse at taking tests or specifically worse at taking these kinds of tests.” Other researchers suggest that  “poor nutrition, worsening health, media exposures and changes to education could account for the decline in scores.”

Certainly, results of international exams like PISA as well as the national assessment, NAEP, consistently indicate that the American education system is in dire need of improvement. And the extended closure of schools during the pandemic has contributed to the problem. It’s time to focus on emphasizing the basic skills of reading, writing and math before this downward trend spirals beyond repair! 

Laura Maniglia