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Why Are People Getting Dumber?

are people getting

Something rather interesting, and not a little troubling, is happening with the human population. The newest generation of people have a shorter life expectancy than the previous generation. Sorry kids, you’re not going to live as long as dear old Dad! But I also wonder, are people getting dumber as well?

Two recent studies, one by Brown University and the other from Columbia University, both concluded that cognitive development is declining in young children. Both studies looked at children born during the pandemic, but there has been a marked decline in kid smarts since the turn of the 21st century.

So the question really needs to be asked. Why is people sooo stoopid!? I mean, all the science aside, lots of people just seem generally to be missing a few important brain cells. This is just based on my own informal, anecdotal experience, mind you…

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Are People Getting Dumber? – 4 Hypotheses

Four possible hypotheses emerged from this work.

Parent Stress

I think I could get behind this one! Turns out there’s a well-studied link between stressed mothers during pregnancy and lower infant brain development. The more a mother worries and stresses, the more it seems to impact neural development in the brains of the fetus.

And after the child is born, the combined stresses of Mom and Dad don’t seem to help either. All those new parents, trying to figure out how that new kid works and getting stressed out because there’s no instructions. And the children suffer, growing up dumb. So sad.

Parents Spending Too Much Time Online

Yes, it turns out this is a thing! We were always worried about how much screen time our kids got, when we should have been looking at ourselves as parents. How much time were we spending on our devices?

I’ve had my own struggles with device distraction. I mean, how many times a day did I need to check my emails? It’s taken me years to wean myself from it. And sometimes I’m still sucked in. But I have made progress!

Parents nowadays spend more time with their kids than my parents did, but that’s not necessarily “quality time”. More low quality time with our kids translates into poorer emotional development. Sitting on the couch and scrolling through your Instagram feed, while your little bundle of joy plays on the floor is, it turns out, stunting Junior’s intellectual growth. Hence, stupider children.

Children Are Spending Too Much Time Online

This is the one that people associate with the dumbing of society. Our children are more engaged with social media platforms, and escaping into the addictive world of video games. All at the expense of their emotional and social development. Way back when, I explored this with our own children.

Kids don’t have “real” relationships that aren’t filtered by the anonymity of social media. Therefore they’re not learning how to deal with the social and emotional nuances of face to face relations.

Having To Wear Facemasks

Really!? Apparently, this was an actual hypothesis.

The way the theory goes, children don’t see the varied expressions of their parents while wearing facemasks. Based on the 1975 “still face” experiment, when mothers showed no expression, the kids became more fussy. So the question was, if parents were wearing facemasks around their children during COVID, did it impact their development?

Well, as it turns out, no. The same psychology professor who performed the above experiment also looked into this hypothesis. He conducted a self-funded study to explore this hypothesis. His conclusion was that mask wearing mothers did not negatively impact their child’s development.

But of course, there are other studies showing the opposite. Interestingly, some of those studies were funded by special interest groups linked to anti-masking groups.

Although, I have no doubt that the COVID conspiracy theorists latched onto those studies as another reason why not to wear masks…

are people getting dumber-how to wear a facemask
Keeping everyone safe…

Okay, But Why Are Adult People Getting Dumber?

It’s all well and good to cite studies of children growing up during the pandemic and point to their ever-increasing dumbness. But that doesn’t explain the apparent increase in adult stupid. I mean, haven’t you noticed the people around us? Maybe not so much our friends and family (although sometimes it is our friends and family!), but out in public it just seems like people are getting dumber.

So, is it just me, or are people getting dumber? And do I need to worry about my own kids? Might there be a possibility for them to become dumber? I’ll get to that…

Let us consider the aforementioned conspiracy theorists. Are these people dumb, or just easily led astray?

I have this friend, who I’ll call Bob. Now, I’ve known Bob since 1986, when we were both film students at SAIT. Bob and I got to be great friends. We even moved to Vancouver together and got an apartment after graduation.

But as the years passed, and I moved out of the city and eventually to Vancouver Island, we drifted apart. Our lives simply followed different paths, as so often happens with friends. We continued to keep in touch, albeit sporadically. Even that became less and less.

But then COVID happened. The world turned upside down, and nuts started dropping from the trees. I started to see odd posts on Instagram from Bob that didn’t quite mesh with the Bob I knew.

Are People Getting Dumber Because of Conspiracy Theories?

It began with mocking of people wearing masks, and rapidly grew to re-posting false stories of the “real” source of the “plandemic”. Then he jumped on the “Freedom Convoy” bandwagon, and ranted about getting enough signatures to take over the government.

Watching this take place on social media was sad, heart-breaking. I knew it wouldn’t matter what I said; he had drunk the Kool-Aid. My friend Bob was a hardcore, card carrying conspiracy theorist.

But here’s the thing; Bob isn’t a moron. He’s a smart, sensitive, compassionate guy who bought into something that was easy to buy into. And it turns out, it’s pretty easy for large segments of society to buy into the same kinds of conspiracy theories.

Believing in a widely discredited theory –and feeling part of a community of fellow believers –can help to satisfy some people’s need to feel special.

Dr Christian Jarrett, Cognitive Neuroscientist

There’s certainly a lot more to it than that, but the gist of it is; not everyone who buys into conspiracy theories is an idiot. However, a lot of them are. Morons.

I don’t know if some part of the dumbing down of society is a result of large groups of people falling into these crazy conspiracy community circles. For people prone to anxiety and a feeling of a lack of control, subscribing to conspiracy theories can help alleviate these feelings.

But Are People Getting Dumber For Other Reasons?

So, are people getting dumber for other reasons? Were many of them already dumb to begin with? Or are people getting dumber because of environmental factors, climate change, microplastics in our water, or cancer-causing windmills? Are people getting dumber from the foods we eat, the chemical additives in processed foods, or from too much reality tv? Are we as parents making our kids dumber because we spend too much time on Netflix, instead of playing Lego?

I really don’t know the answer. Anecdotally, it seems to me like people are getting dumber. Maybe they’ve always been dumb, and now people like certain politicians are encouraging dumb people to come out of their closets.

are people getting dumber? Pierre Poilievre isn't helping
Courtesy Michael de Adder

Oops! Didn’t mean to get political there…

All I can do is continue to stay on top of my mental game, and not let those nuts wear me down. Recognize that there are some things that I can’t change, and get on with my life. I really can’t be worrying about all the Bobs out there.

What About My Own Kids?

Same goes for my own children. Heather and I have spent the best years of our lives encouraging, guiding, and communicating with our kids to think for themselves, and to be mindful of the world around them. Both read voraciously, and, I think, take pains to learn new things. But is that enough to keep them from becoming dumblings? Silly spellcheck, of course that’s a word!

Going back to that whole “Parents spending too much time online” hypothesis: We maybe weren’t always the best role models when it came to staying off our devices during their formative years. Heather chided me often about being on my computer or phone when I should have been engaged with the younglings. Maybe I’ve inadvertently created stupid people? Maybe I’m the problem?? Crap!!

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Thanks Luke…
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[…] address this in a blog post. Because, though I may write articles about my pet peeves, or the declining intelligence in the human race, I generally don’t complain. I’m far too happy to bother griping about things I […]

7 months ago

I have had my theories about the dumbing of society for a bit, and I have been contributing it to a variety of external factors.

My personal hypothesis is as follows: Social media addiction is a relatively new crisis, and as such there are not many current ways to deal with it. Because of this, people (young and old!) are engaging too much with social media. I truly believe (and plan to study during my degree) that social media addiction can be linked to a lack of motivation in school, actual social life, and work. For children, this means less learning which is fairly self-explanatory, but also the lack of social life is a major problem.

While I don’t have access to the exact study at the moment, in a psych lecture we were told that the brain’s development in the prefrontal cortex (rational decision making part) is tied to a LOT of things, including interactions with other people! Turns out nurture plays a huge roll in our intelligence and critical thinking skills, so if people are getting worse at socializing, they’ll be getting worse at thinking.

With adults who’s brains are already developed, it’s easy to fall into a vacuum chamber of “what you want to hear” exclusively, which is one reason conspiracy theories and even cults can hold so much weight. Social media algorithms make this even easier to fall into, as repeatedly seeing people agree with you online will make you truly believe they are right.

Another study (on memory) we learned about in psych was where participants were asked to view a video of a crime, then asked to pick the criminal from a gallery of suspect mugshots. In fact, the actual criminal was not pictured, and in the VAST majority of cases, when a subject picked an incorrect suspect, at first they weren’t confident. But in EVERY case, if the researcher told them they were right, or even told them “good job”, the subject became SURE that was the criminal. In many cases, even after the researcher told the subject that none of the answers were correct, the subject STILL doubled down on their choice!

Point is, affirmation of beliefs or suspicions can make them grow A LOT, so if you see some conspiracy theory on social media and lack sufficient self-awareness, it is incredibly easy for otherwise intelligent people to get sucked into a completely wild theory or belief.

Yes I’m studying psychology, why do you ask?

7 months ago

You might enjoy reading ‘The Coddling of the American Mind’ … haven’t read it yet but maybe soon.

7 months ago

Maybe people aren’t getting dumber. Maybe you are becoming more and more of a brainiac. Maybe, by comparison, you are just smarter rather than them dumber. You are certainly sounding like one of those wise savant that has little tolerance for those less intelligent.

”I’m going to pull my pants up around my waste and complain about other people full time.”

Secondly, believers of conspiracy theories tend, according to Dan Ariely, author of Disbelief, to have a great deal of stress in their lives. They find easy solutions to their problems then, when ridiculed by others and part time bloggers, they seek out people with like minds that will acknowledge them.

The Current with Matt Galloway: Why rational people believe irrational things

Me, I’m definitely getting stupider. Likely the three paper joints.

7 months ago
Reply to  Michael

Michael Sorry for the critical reply to your post. A pet peeve of mine is people that complain, a lot, about other people, government, work, etc. So when I complain about people that complain, what am I? A hypocrite. (Which is another pet peeve of mine.) You are not a complainer Michael. You are observant. P.S. That university kid of yours is becoming quite the brainiac.

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