Friday 27 September 2013

Could worldwide declines in intelligence explain increased short-termism (such as extreme economic expropriation and ethnic cleansing)


The best objective evidence, from long term comparison of simple reaction times, suggests that there has been a considerable decline in general intelligence 'g' in Britain over the past 150-200 years - approximately one standard deviation (or 15 IQ points) decline compared with present norms .

The most plausible explanations are some combination of

1. Differential fertility between those with high and low intelligence - such that intelligence is inversely correlated with fertility, hence with reproductive success.

2. A generation-by-generation accumulation of deleterious (intelligence-reducing) genetic mutations due to the major decline in neonatal and childhood mortality rates.


Probably the same factors apply elsewhere in the world. Observations of manyfold worldwide population growth differentially greatest in Africa and the Middle East, plus the same patterning of fertility by intelligence, suggest that significant declines in general intelligence would be expected across most of the world.

If so, this would have many effects - one of which might be an increase in short-termism; in technical terms, an increase in delay discounting: that is the tendency to choose a smaller but immediate reward over a delayed but larger reward.

It has been found in numerous studies that there is a significant inverse correlation between intelligence and delay discounting  - in other words the lower the intelligence, the greater the tendency to prefer more immediate but smaller rewards.

Delay discounting and intelligence: A meta-analysis
Noah A. Shamosh , Jeremy R. Gray
Volume 36, Issue 4, July–August 2008, Pages 289–305


An increase in delay discounting is exactly what can be seen in several situations around the world - where stable long-term arrangements between different groups are breaking-down because the stronger group is no longer context to 'harvest' taxes and other benefits from the weaker groups over the long term; but instead the stronger group is expropriating the entire goods of the weaker group, now! - causing the weaker group to die or leave; or esle simply expelling/ killing them (e.g. 'ethnic, or religious, cleansing').

This is short-termist because it gains immediate benefit for some persons, but at the cost of rendering all parties worse-off in the longer term.


If the obvious increase in worldwide short-termism is indeed substantially due to a significant global decline in intelligence, then this counts as very bad news, because nothing much can be done about it.



Misanthropist said...

Increased short-termism is probably a factor in support for policies such as ongoing budget deficits, fiscal stimulus, money printing etc., demonising 'austerity' etc.

And yet short-termism can be rational if people calculate that society has no long-term future.

Nicholas Fulford said...

It is probably a stretch to imply that short-termism has a direct tie to intelligence. It may be one of several factors, (including functional intelligence which decreases due to multi-tasking and sleep deprivation amongst other things.)

I notice that my attention span and comprehension have decreased due to chronic sleep deprivation which seems to be increasingly becoming the norm today. I design systems at day, and stay connected to forums like these that stimulate my mind, while trying to read enough to stay current--it all shortens my attention span and puts priority on the immediate over the long term. And yes, my reaction times are slower as a result. Cortisol levels are no doubt higher, tachycardia events happen, and my 5.5 hours of sleep at night get interrupted by acid reflux.

So, are reaction times increased, and is the ability to stay focused decreased, and does this favour immediate gratification over delay?

Yes, yes, and yes.

I don't think that the genetic basis of intelligence has changed appreciably, (though the propensity for high IQ people to have fewer or no children could certainly have an effect over time), but without a doubt stressors of the modern life have an influence, and these may also include problems pertaining to the problems of people having children later in life when the "best before date" has passed for eggs and sperm.

Bruce Charlton said...

@M - The point about lower intelligence is that you would get more shorter-termism whether it was rational or not - often it would not be rational but you'd get it anyway.

@NF - I can't see how any of this would shorten your reaction times, unless you were too ill to do the test. It's just a light coming on and pressing a button.

I don't know about the stressors of modern life - they are different from those of the past, but not necessarily worse. Earlier generations were stressed by wars, more bereavement, lack of food, persistent cold and wet, work outdoors in all weathers and in very dangerous factories and sites, more frequent and long lasting serious illnesses, very long hours of (often) back breaking labour etc.

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

Recommendation one: oppose the importation of large numbers of people who are of a different race / culture / religion to you, because when they have the numbers to, they won't just exploit you, they'll kill you.

Recommendation two: simplify your thinking before the rush.

Recommendation three: don't worry about almost anything. Especially not things that clever, respectable people say you should worry about.

dearieme said...

"because nothing much can be done about it". Eat the stupid?

Matias F. said...

I think it's obvious that the recent troubles in Egypt and the rest of the region reflect this king of development. There isn't much anyone can do to help.

Bruce Charlton said...

@dearieme - Sounds a bit like Jonathan Swift's Modest Proposal...

Bruce Charlton said...

Comment from Titus Didius Tacitus

"One example of the sort of thing that clever, respectable people worry about: The Future Of Democracy.


"What does genetically driven accelerating short-termism mean for The Future Of Democracy? That's it, in essence.

"It doesn't matter what precedents we set now for The Future Of Democracy. None of that 1950s "civic religion" lawyer talk is going to mean a thing.

"It's the same for all sorts of other issues that super-genius windbags like to talk about.

"People who give away the vital interests of their tribes in return for setting precedents in respect of abstract principles that nobody in future will care about or even understand are the most foolish people of all."

Hence: simplify your thinking before the rush.

Jove said...

I'm sorry for asking:

What does it mean: reproductive success is inversely Correlated with fertility?

If you are so kind as to explain it to me.

Bruce Charlton said...

@J- It was a typo - thanks for pointing it out. Fixed.