Why Do Smart People Have Such a Hard Time Dating?
I have a mini-confession to make: I wrote the Tao of Dating books specifically for really smart people. The writing of the books was precipitated by the endemic dating woes on the Harvard campus as I observed them as an advisor and, earlier, indulged in them as a student.
Those kids graduate and pretty much continue to have the same dating woes — only now with fewer single people around who happen to live in the same building and share meals with them every day. So if they had challenges then, it gets about 1,000 times worse once they're tossed from the warm womb of their alma mater.
From my observations, the following dating challenges seem to be common to most smart people. In fact, the smarter you are, the more clueless you will be, and the more problems you're going to have in your dating life. Once upon a day I used to be pretty smart, and believe me, I had a lock on clueless.
On the one hand, this makes no sense. Smart people can figure stuff out, right? And this stuff is simple!
On the other hand, it makes total sense. For simple things, it takes someone smart to really screw it up. So whether you went (or should have gone) to the s of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, Columbia, Cornell, Swarthmore, Amherst, Dartmouth, Brown, Oxford, Cambridge, Berkeley, Penn, Caltech, Duke, read on:
1. Smart people spent more time on achievements than on relationships when growing up.
Smart kids usually come from smart families. And smart families are usually achievement-oriented. Bring me home those straight As, son. Get into those top colleges, daughter. Take piano, violin, tennis, swimming and Tibetan throat-singing lessons. Win every award there is in the book. Be “well-rounded.”
Well, you're a talented little bugger. Of course you should develop those talents. At the same time, there's an opportunity cost associated with achievement. Time spent studying, doing homework, and practicing the violin is time not spent doing other things — chasing boys or girls, which turns out is fairly instrumental in making you a well-rounded human.
The upshot of all that achievement is that you get into a top college — congratulations! — and then continue doing even more of what you were doing before. Dating is at best another extracurricular, number six or number seven down the list, somewhere between Model UN and intramural badminton.
I've been co-hosting young alumni events for name-brand schools for long enough to know that these kids come out a little lopsided (which sounds so much better than “socially awkward,” don't you think?). All they need is a little tune up, or a little dating textbook The Tao of Dating for Women or The Tao of Dating for Men, to get them going — plus a little practice.
Of course, as noted above, things only get worse once you graduate.
And if you're frustrated with your love life, you just might try to compensate by working harder and achieving even more to fill that void. Left untreated, this condition can go on for decades.
I know people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond who still haven't figured out how to create an intimate connection with another human being.
It's because they've been going at it the wrong way. Which brings us to…
2. Smart people feel that they're entitled to love because of their achievements.
For most of their lives, smart people inhabit a seemingly-meritocratic universe: If they work hard, they get good results (or, in the case of really smart folks, even if they don't work hard, they still get good results). Good results mean kudos, strokes, positive reinforcement, respect from peers, love from parents.
So it only makes sense that in the romantic arena, it should work the same way. Right? The more stuff I do, the more accomplishments and awards I have, the more girls (or boys) will me. Right? Please say I'm right, because I've spent a LOT of time and energy accumulating this mental jewelry, and I'm going to be really bummed if you tell me it's not going to get me laid.
Well, it's not going to get you laid, brother (or sister). It may get you a first date, but it's probably not going to get you a second date. And it certainly won't bring you lasting love and fulfillment.
Here's the thing: Your romantic success has nothing to do with your mental jewelry and everything to do with how you make the other person feel. And making someone feel a certain way is a somewhat nonlinear process that requires a different kind of mastery than that of calculus or Shakespeare.
In other words, you need to earn love (or at least lust). Sadly, no mom, dad or professor teaches us about the power of the well-placed compliment (or put-down), giving attention but not too much attention, being caring without being needy. I wrote a whole 280-page book about that, so that's a story for a different day.
3. You don't feel a fully-realized sexual being and therefore don't act one.
At some point in your life, you got pegged as a smart person. From then on, that was your principal identity: The Smart One. Especially if you had a sibling who was better looking than you, in which case she (or he) was The Pretty One.
Now you could be absolutely stunning (in which case you're both smart AND pretty and everyone hates you except for me — call me, , immediately), but your identity is still bound up in being The Smart One. So maybe you dress frumpy and don't pay a lot of attention to your appearance. Or never bothered to cultivate your sensuality as a woman. Or your sexual aggression as a male.
Attracting a partner is all about the dance of polarity. Energy flows between positive and negative electrodes, anode and cathode, magnetic north and south. Unless you actually convey femininity as a woman or masculinity as a man, you're not going to attract a suitable companion of the opposite sex.
Part of the issue is this: When all of your personal energy is concentrated in the head, it never gets a chance to trickle down to the heart, or, god forbid, the groin. By virtue of being born of the union of male and female, yang and yin, you are a sexual being. Deal with it. Now do what you need to do to perpetuate the race already. Use what mama amoeba gave you.
4. You're exceptionally talented at getting in the way of your own romantic success.
Here's an incontrovertible fact: Every one of your ancestors survived to reproductive age and got it on at least once with a member of the opposite sex. All the way back to Homo erectus.
And even further back to Australopithecus.
And even further back to monkeys, to lizards, to the first amphibian that crawled the slime, the fish that preceded that amphibian, the worm before the fish and the amoeba that preceded the worm.
And you, YOU, in the year 2009 C.E., the culmination of that miraculously unbroken line of succession, you, Homo sapiens sapiens, not just thinking man but thinking thinking man (or woman), are the only one smart enough to screw the whole thing up.
Perhaps you should consider thinking a little less then.
Because heaven knows that the amoeba, worm, fish, amphibian, monkey and primitive hominids didn't do a whole lot of thinking. Their DNA had a vested interest in perpetuating itself, so it made sure that happened.
Turns out your DNA works the same way, too.
And maybe when you're really sloshed at a party and your whole frontal lobe is on vacation in the outer rings of Saturn, you've noticed that your lizard brain knows exactly how to grab that cute girl by the waist for a twirl on the dance floor. Or knows exactly how to arch your back, flip your hair and glance at that handsome hunk just so such that he comes on over to say hi.
To put it plainly, you are programmed to reproduce. Now quit thinking you're smarter than the 3 billion base pairs in your genome and 4 billion years of evolution. Actually, just stop thinking altogether. Let the program do its work.
5. By virtue (or vice) of being smart, you eliminate most of the planet's inhabitants as a dating prospect.
Let's say by “smart” we mean “in the top 5 percent of the population in terms of intelligence and education.” Generally speaking, smart people seek out other smart people to hang out with, simply because they get bored otherwise. And if they're going to spend a lot of time with someone, intelligence in a partner is pretty much a requirement.
Well, congratulations — you've just eliminated 95 percent of the world's population as a potential mate, Mr. or Ms. Smartypants.
Now, luckily, the world's kinda big, so the remaining 5 percent of the gender of your choice is still a plentiful 160 million or so people.
Even if only 1 percent of those are single enough, good-looking enough, local enough and just all-around cool enough for you, that's over a million people you can date out there.
Still, that's less than 1 in 5,000 people. And if you live in a smaller city, it may be just a handful of folks who are going to meet your stringent criteria.
At this point, you have three choices:
B) Do a very thorough search all over the planet and be prepared to move to Duesseldorf OR
My hearty recommendation is choice A. The purpose of relationship (and perhaps all of life) is to practice the loving. No partner is going to be 100 percent perfect anyway, so learn to appreciate people for what they have to offer, not what they don't. And love them for that. That's what real loving is.
Nobody's asking to lower your standards here; you should still spend time only with worthwhile company. But do question the standards to see whether they're serving you or you're serving them.
When you open your heart to love, you may find fulfillment in ways you never imagined possible — the day you tried sushi or beer in spite of your trepidation, found it surprisingly alright, and expanded your personal envelope of pleasure. Taking that into consideration, given a choice between happy-go-lucky and picky-but-lonely, happy sounds more fun.
The Romantic Disadvantages to Being Smart
Source: Jet Cat Studio/Shutterstock
What do most people want in a partner? Intelligence.
This trait appears again and again when people think about their ideal partner. In fact, a cross-cultural study that surveyed over 200,000 people revealed that intelligence is the number-one preferred partner trait by men (followed by good looks) and the number-two trait for women (ranked behind humor; Lippa, 2007). Clearly, intelligence is an advantage in the mating game.
But could you be too intelligent to be desirable?
Traditionally, researchers have gathered data on mate preferences by asking participants to rank their preferred partner traits (e.g.
, first, second, third), or to rate different traits using a scale of, say, 1-7.
While all of these approaches provide information on the relative standing of different mate characteristics, humor, kindness, and intelligence, they do not tell us how much of each trait is desirable.
Indeed, rank order and rating studies could lead us to believe that if a trait is desirable, the more, the better.
If kindness is good, very kind is better! If humor is good, hilarious is better! If intelligence is good, super high IQs are even better! And maybe there's some truth to these ideas: High intelligence, for example, indicates an array of desirable heritable traits, including creativity and problem-solving, and suggests stimulating companionship for a long-term relationship. The adaptive benefits of intelligence makes smart look pretty darn sexy.
But could there be a limit to the sexiness of smartness? Researchers Gignac, Darbyshire, and Ooi (2018) University of Western, Australia, decided to find out. Instead of relying on rank orders or ratings, they focused on the perceived attractiveness of specific levels of intelligence.
Sampling about 375 individuals with estimated IQs of about 100 (i.e., average), they asked participants to indicate their attraction (for short-term or long-term relationships) to an attractive potential partner whose IQ scores ranged along a continuum (1st, 10th, 25th, 50th, 75th, 90th, and 99th).
The results suggest yes, extraordinary intelligence may hurt your attractiveness, at least to a degree (Gignac et al., 2018).
Attraction — be it sexual, short-term attraction or long-term partner interest — tended to increase steeply from the 1st to the 50th percentile, and then it increased again to the 75th percentile but began to peak at the 90th percentile.
Men and women actually reported less attraction to individuals in the 99th percentile than they did to those in the 90th percentile. In other words, super-smart people appear less desirable than their slightly-less-smart counterparts.
So how smart is too smart? The 90th IQ percentile appears to be the most desirable intelligence level and represents an IQ of 120, slightly more than 1 standard deviation above the mean of 100 (the standard deviation for IQ is 15). Prior to this point, more intelligence (as defined by IQ) increases attractiveness, and after this point, it starts to hurt attraction for short- and long-term relationships.
The takeaway? All this suggests that desirable traits can be desirable, but maybe not at extreme levels.
While the authors speculate that perhaps people with extraordinary intelligence are less apt to have strong interpersonal skills, there's no consistent evidence to support this, though it may reflect a (false) stereotype about highly intelligent people.
While their effect was observed for intelligence, there's reason to suspect that other traits might share this pattern: An excess quantity of any number of traits that are otherwise desirable might sour their owner's attractiveness.
Of note, a small sub-sample of the population report considerable sexual arousal by the conveyed high intelligence of others.
These sapiosexuals are turned off by people of average intelligence, are excited by intellectually stimulating conversations, and value high intelligence as a necessary trait of a potential partner.
Gignac and colleagues (2018) found that scores on their sapiosexuality questionnaire positively correlated with attraction to individuals described as being in the 99th percentile for their IQ scores.
Are You Smarter Than Your Grandfather? Probably Not
In the mid-1980s, James Flynn made a groundbreaking discovery in human intelligence. The political scientist at the University of Otago in New Zealand found that over the last century, in every nation in the developing world where intelligence-test results are on record, IQ test scores had significantly risen from one generation to the next.
“Psychologists faced a paradox: either the people of today were far brighter than their parents or, at least in some circumstances, IQ tests were not good measures of intelligence,” writes Flynn.
Now, in a new book, Are We Getting Smarter? Rising IQ in the Twenty-First Century, Flynn unpacks his original finding, explaining the causes for this widespread increase in IQ scores, and reveals some new ones, regarding teenagers’ vocabularies and the mental decline of the extremely bright in old age. Ultimately, Flynn concludes that human beings are not smarter—just more modern.
Malcolm Gladwell explains why the “Flynn effect,” as the trend is now called, is so surprising.
“If we work in the opposite direction, the typical teenager of today, with an IQ of 100, would have grandparents with average IQs of 82—seemingly below the threshold necessary to graduate from high school,” he wrote in a New Yorker article in 2007.
“And, if we go back even farther, the Flynn effect puts the average IQs of the schoolchildren of 1900 at around 70, which is to suggest, bizarrely, that a century ago the United States was populated largely by people who today would be considered mentally retarded.”
In the last half-century, what have the IQ gains been in America?
The overall gain is about 3 points every 10 years, which would be 9 points in a generation. That is highly significant.
Now, on these tests [two that Flynn looks at are the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, or WISC, and the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, or WAIS], the gains vary by subtest.
For example, there is a subtest called “similarities,” which asks questions , what do dogs and rabbits have in common? Or what do truth and beauty have in common? On this subtest, the gains over those 50 years have been quite extraordinary, something 25 points.
The arithmetic subtest essentially tests arithmetical reasoning, and on that, the gains have been extremely small.
How do these gains compare to those in other nations?
If you look at the Wechsler gains abroad, they are pretty close to U.S. gains. There was a period of high historic gains in Scandinavia; these seem to have tailed off as the century waned.
I thought that might be true of other countries as well.
Maybe the engine that powers IQ gains was running fuel? But the latest data from South Korea, America, Germany and Britain show the gains still humming along at that same rate into the 21st century.
So, what has caused IQ scores to increase from one generation to another?
The ultimate cause is the Industrial Revolution. It affects our society in innumerable ways. The intermediate causes are things smaller family size. If you have a better ratio of adults to children in the home, than an adult vocabulary predominates rather than a child vocabulary.
Family size fell in the last century throughout the Western world. Formal schooling is terribly important; it helps you think in the way that IQ testers . In 1910, schools were focused on kids memorizing things about the real world. Today, they are entirely about relationships.
There is also the fact that so many more of us are pursuing cognitively demanding professions. Compared to even 1950, the number of people who are doing technical, managerial or professional jobs has risen enormously.
The fact that our leisure has switched away from merely recovery from work towards cognitively taxing pleasures, playing video games, has also been important.
What goes on in the person’s mind in the test room that allows them to do better on the test? One of the fundamental things is the switch from “utilitarian spectacles” to “scientific spectacles.” The fact that we wear scientific spectacles doesn’t mean that we actually know a lot about science.
What I mean is, in 1900 in America, if you asked a child, what do dogs and rabbits have in common, they would say, “Well, you use dogs to hunt rabbits.” This is not the answer that the IQ tests want. They want you to classify. Today, a child would be ly to say, “They are both animals.” They picked up the habit of classification and use the vocabulary of science.
They classify the world as a prerequisite to understanding it.
Do IQ gains mean we are more intelligent than our ancestors?
What is important is how our minds differ from those of people 100 years ago, not whether we label it “smarter” or “more intelligent.” I prefer to say our brains are more modern.
Our brains at autopsy are probably different. We have discovered that the brain is a muscle. A weightlifter has very different muscles than a swimmer. Similarly, we exercise different portions of our brains in a way our ancestors didn’t.
They might have had better memories than we do, so they would have a larger hippocampus [a part of the brain that forms, processes and stores memory]. But, we would have exercised certain areas in the prefrontal lobes more than they did.
So, those things would be enlarged.
The other important factor is we have learned to use logic to attack the hypothetical. We have an ability to deal with a much wider range of problems than our ancestors would. For example, if you were a businessperson, you would be much more inventive. You would be more imaginative. We are better at executive functions, or at making business decisions. We are also better at moral reasoning.
In your research, you have found that there is a growing gap between the vocabularies of adults and their children. How big is this gap?
You look between 1953 and 2006 on the adult Wechsler IQ test, and its vocabulary subtest, and the gains have been 17.4 points. The gains for schoolchildren during a similar period have been only 4 points. That is a spreading difference of 13 IQ points. That’s huge.
In 1950, something 12 percent of Americans had experienced at least some tertiary, or post-high school, education; today it is up to 52 percent. More people go into cognitively and verbally demanding professions, law, school teaching, counseling, psychology and journalism. This has had an effect on adult vocabulary.
The IQ gains of our children have been much more muted. You might say, well, the children haven’t been to university. But children are socialized by the adults that speak around them every day.
The question is why are parents less capable of socializing their children into their own vocabulary than they were 50 years ago? I can only imagine that some cultural barrier has built up that insulates the speech of children from the speech of adults.
Could teenage subculture be this barrier?
The word “teenager” didn’t exist in 1950. I was a teenager in 1950, and everyone else, I wanted to become an adult as quick as possible to get access to money, sex, privacy and a car. Today, teenagers have all of those things without becoming adults.
They have enormous purchasing power, and they have developed their own subculture, which is often antagonistic towards their parents. They often have their own speech patterns from texting and slang. I suspect that at least for teenagers a cultural barrier has developed between parent and child.
What has happened with younger children, I am still investigating.
In 1950, teenagers could not only understand their parents, but they could also mimic their speech. Today, teenagers can still understand their parents. Their passive vocabularies are good enough. But when it comes to the words they actively use, they are much less capable of adult speak. That is also true of what they would write on an essay.
You have also discovered a trend that you call the “bright tax.” What is this?
The wisdom always was that the brighter you were, the less your mental abilities declined in old age. I found that was an oversimplification. It is true of verbal intelligence. The brighter you are, the more you get a bonus for verbal skills. I call that a “bright bonus.
” Your vocabulary declines at a much less steep rate in old age than an ordinary or below average person. But to my amazement I found that for analytic abilities it was just the reverse. There is a “bright tax.” The brighter you are, the quicker after the age of 65 you have a downward curve for your analytic abilities.
For a bright person, you go downhill faster than an average person.
This raises an interesting question. Is it something to do with the aging brain, or does it have to do with environment? It could be that a good analytic brain is a high performance sports car; it just requires more maintenance, and in old age, the body can’t give it.
That would be a physiological explanation; the bright brain requires sustenance from the body, which as the body ages is no longer forthcoming. The environmental explanation would be that we use our analytic abilities mainly at work.
That means that if a bright person is in a cognitively demanding profession, they are an athlete; they build up a big exercise advantage over the average person, who has a humdrum job. Then, retirement would be a leveler. That is, if you give up work at 65, you are an athlete who is retired from competition.
You no longer have that exercise advantage of your analytic abilities that work affords. We don’t really know which of these things is true. It could be that they are both true to some degree.
I think this is a great fear for many retirees. What can someone do to stave off this decline?
Retire from your job, but read great literature. Read about the history of science. Try and keep up your problem solving skills. Every bit of evidence shows that the more you use your brain, the fitter it will stay.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that in countries Sweden and Switzerland, where people did not retire early, the loss of working memory by the age of 65 was only half as great as in France, where people did retire early.
What do you predict will happen to IQ scores going forward?
One of the most interesting predictions is what will happen to the developing world. If they industrialize, in theory, they should have the explosive IQ gains in the coming century that we had in the last century.
In my book, I study six developing nations. Kenya is undergoing explosive IQ gains. Brazil and Turkey are undergoing quite profound gains. Nations Saudi Arabia and the Sudan are not, but the Sudanese keep having civil wars and the Saudis are really just living off of oil revenue.
They are not industrializing in any real sense. Dominica is the sixth case. There, they are making IQ gains, but their infrastructure is wiped out about every 10 years by hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis.
I predict that Brazil, Turkey and Kenya will industrialize over the next century and begin to rival the Western world for IQ.
Are Humans Getting Smarter or Dumber?
Is humanity getting smarter or dumber with time? The answer may be both.
While IQ scores are rising at a remarkable rate, humans' underlying genetic potential for smarts could be on the decline, a new study suggests. The research found that by one measure of intelligence, the Victorians had modern folk beat.
The findings aren't without controversy — particularly whether or not the measurements used really reveal intelligence. Still, the study highlights the trouble with measuring intelligence over time: Smarts aren't defined as just one thing. What makes a person clever on the African Savannah could be nearly useless in the financial centers of Hong Kong.
“It's not simply that intelligence is going down or going up,” said Michael Woodley, a psychologist at Umea University in Sweden who led the new research. “Different parts of intelligence could be changing in lots of different ways.” [Life's Extremes: Smart vs. Dumb]
Are you smarter than your grandma?
The world is full of evidence that modern humans have more going on upstairs than their ancestors did: Smartphones. Heart transplants. A basic understanding that germs cause diseases.
Beyond these technological advances, though, is another hint that humans are getting smarter. It's called the Flynn effect, named after intelligence researcher James Flynn, an emeritus professor of the University of Otago in New Zealand.
Since IQ, or intelligence quotient, tests have been revised and standardized several times in the past 100 years, to see the Flynn effect, scientists have their volunteers take tests designed for previous generations. Flynn and his colleagues have found that all around the world, the new generations score higher on the old tests than the original test takers did.
The increases are no small matter, either — they vary by geography, but tend to be around three extra IQ points per decade. [Creative Genius: The World's Greatest Minds]
Flynn and many other researchers suspect that rising IQ scores reflect improving modern environments. IQ is part heritable and part environmental; enrich a young child's environment with opportunities to learn, and they'll have a higher IQ later in life. Better nutrition, more schooling and more stimulation could also explain the Flynn effect.
So could the kind of thinking that people do today. If you asked someone in the 19th century the relationship between a dog and a hare, they'd ly go with something concrete, their real-life experience with the two animals, Woodley said. “The dog hunts the hare” might be a typical response.
Today, people are taught to think more abstractly. A modern person would be more ly to say that both dogs and hares are mammals, for example.
“These sort of heuristics and modern habits of thought have changed the way people have approached answering IQ tests,” Woodley said.
The dulling of humanity
Even as the Flynn effect sends IQ scores skyrocketing, some researchers argue a darker view. Humans aren't getting smarter, they say. They're getting stupider.
In November 2012, Stanford University School of Medicine researcher Gerald Crabtree published two papers in the journal Trends in Genetics suggesting that humanity's intelligence peaked between 2,000 and 6,000 years ago.
Crabtree based this assertion on genetics. About 2,000 to 5,000 genes control human intelligence, he estimated.
At the rate at which genetic mutations accumulate, Crabtree calculated that within the last 3,000 years, all of humanity has sustained at least two mutations harmful to these intellect-determining genes (and will sustain a couple more in another 3,000 years).
Not every mutation will cause harm — genes come in pairs, and some weaknesses caused by mutation can be covered for by the healthy half of the pair, Crabtree wrote; but the calculation suggests that intelligence is more fragile than it seems.
Furthermore, he argued, intelligence isn't as evolutionarily important to humans today as it was when the species was hunter-gatherers.
Thousands of years ago, failing to grasp the aerodynamics of throwing a spear when a lion was coming at you meant you were toast — no more passing along your genes to offspring.
Modern man rarely faces such life-or-death tests of wits, Crabtree wrote. [10 Things That Make Humans Special]
Another theory holds that humanity's genetic capacity for intelligence is in decline because of a phenomenon called dysgenic mating.
Since the mid-1800s, IQ and reproduction have been negatively correlated, studies have found. To put it bluntly, people who are more intelligent have fewer babies.
Because intelligence is part genetic, some researchers argue that, if anything, IQs should be dropping.
Instead, scores are going up, creating a paradox for the dysgenic mating theory, Woodley said.
Understanding an intelligence paradox
Now, Woodley and his colleagues think they may have solved that paradox, and the news is not good.
To look back at historical intelligence, the researchers turned not to IQ tests, but to reaction time. Simple reaction time (the amount of time it takes to respond to a stimulus) is correlated with IQ, Woodley said, and not nearly as sensitive to cultural influences as IQ tests.
“The idea is that reaction times represent your ability to engage in very basic and elementary cognitive processing,” he said. [The 10 Best Ways to Keep Your Mind Sharp]
In the 1880s, English scientist Sir Francis Galton measured reaction times in 2,522 young men and 888 young women from a wide variety of socioeconomic statuses. He found that men's average reaction time to a stimulus was 183 milliseconds, and women's was 187 ms.
(Galton's reaction time studies were part of his work as the founder of the field of eugenics, the idea that only the “best” should reproduce.
Eugenics was embraced by a variety of high-profile people in the early 1900s, most notably Adolf Hitler, who wanted to establish a “master race” of Aryans.)
Twelve similar studies to Galton's conducted after 1941, on the other hand, found an average reaction time for men of 250 ms and for women of 277 ms — markedly slower. A review study detailing those findings was published in The American Journal of Psychology in 2010.
Woodley and his colleagues expanded on the 2010 work, including additional data and matching the old and new studies to be sure they were measuring the same things.
Despite the fact that timers have improved quite a bit since the 1880s, Woodley is confident that Galton's measurements are accurate.
Galton used a pendulum-based machine to time reactions, and such machines are generally accurate within 10 ms, Woodley said.
Galton's data also behaves as you might expect it to behave if it were correct, Woodley said. For example, groups with more inbreeding performed worse on the reaction time test.
The new analysis was “crystal clear,” Woodley said.
“We found a very, very robust trend with time, toward slowing speeds of reaction,” he said, “which is consistent with the idea that the more stable, the more culturally neutral, the more genetically influenced components of intelligence have been declining rather than increasing.”
What that suggests is that even as IQ scores rise with education and health, humanity's capacity to get smarter is shrinking. In essence, the Flynn effect might be hiding an underlying decline, a “psychometric dark matter” not visible on pen-and-paper intelligence tests, Woodley said.
“An analogy to use would be lower-quality seeds, but higher-quality fertilizers,” he said, referring to this idea that a high-quality environment may be masking the decline in “smart” genes.
If true, the reasons are unknown. Possibilities range from exposure to neurotoxins in modern society to natural selection.
Smarter or dumber?
Not everyone sees the new reaction time findings as the final word, however.
“To sum up 100 years of research, there is a reliable correlation between measures of reaction time and measures of IQ, but the order of such correlations is far short of what would be required to use the former to explain the latter,” said Theodore Nettelbeck, a psychologist at the University of Adelaide who researches intelligence.
In other words, Nettelbeck told LiveScience, using reaction time as a proxy for IQ leaves something to be desired. At best, he said, reaction times to complex stimuli might explain about 20 percent to 25 percent of the variation in IQs, and simple reaction times explain a lot less.
Nettelbeck also raised concerns about the various experiments analyzed in the new study and how comparable they might be.
“Not only would there be differences in the technologies for timing responses, which may or not influence the outcome measures; there would also be procedural differences in the numbers of trials from which means [averages] have been derived, instructions to participants, extent of prior practice, the nature of stimuli, the form of response keys, all of which can influence the length of response,” he said.
Reaction time can also be tricky to interpret, said James Flynn, for whom the Flynn effect is named.
“A dull person has just as quick a peak reaction time as a brilliant person,” Flynn told LiveScience. The difference is that someone with a low IQ typically can't stay focused and so their reaction times won't be consistent throughout an experiment; their scores vary more widely than those of high-IQ people.
“Is this really neural speed, or for a dull person, [or] is it much more difficult for them to be attentive to the task?” Flynn said.
Other factors play a role as well, he added. In studies of schoolchildren, kids in Hong Kong are quicker off the mark in reaction time tests than British kids. You could read those results to mean Chinese kids are smarter than Britons, Flynn said. Or perhaps Chinese kids are just more willing to take risks.
The good news is that even if Woodley and his colleagues are correct that the soil of the human mind is becoming less fertile, the species is not doomed to a slow decline into idiocy.
Norway and Sweden are exceptions to the rule that less educated, lower-IQ people have more children, Flynn said. Both countries have few class differences and make birth control easily available.
And with IQ scores still rising in most of the world, environment seems to be trumping possible genetic problems.
“Apparently, we haven't explored the limits of our genes yet,” Flynn said.
Follow Stephanie Pappas on and . Follow us @livescience, & . Original article on LiveScience.com.
Are We Becoming Smarter Daters?
Being a smarter dater means we are willing to walk away if major red flags appear.
We all have a list of what we want and do not want in a relationship. Some people will get carried away by creating an excessive list—which frankly, will end up blocking love. However, most of us will have an essential list. This will make us smarter daters. Yay!
Being single means there is a greater chance that we will encounter more dating experience than we had hoped for. That's OK. It's important to take our time and not rush the process of finding a guy who is a great match.
Unfortunately, many women will get discouraged and disregard their list which meant to keep them on track. This tends to happen when they feel sexual chemistry with a guy or when they find themselves physically attracted to him.
Well, by completely disregarding the core of what we really want in a man, we become “dumb” daters who end up settling. Oh dear!
Mind-blowing chemistry feels great, but it can blind us from the truth.
Since mind blowing chemistry can be hard to find, we will forgo what we want in a man the second we feel it—rookie mistake. We will convince ourselves that this chemistry must be love, even though it isn't usually.
Also, the guy behind this type of chemistry (more often than not) won't even have half the traits we are looking for—and will tend to treat us poorly.
Yikes! By dismissing our lists, so we can continue to get that sexual, tingling—all-over-our-body high—we prolong genuine lasting love from finding us.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that we can't have the crème de la crème relationship—a man we can have mind-blowing chemistry with who also gives us what we want and need as our partner. However, this guy is rare.
Usually when the chemistry is that hot, the man behind it doesn’t live up and in time the chemistry will burn out. The best chemistry is one built over time—through trust, respect, security and great communication—which will then last even longer.
Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to being a smart dater.
I get that being single can suck. You can feel the odd women out when you are with your coupled friends. You can feel lonely—at night when you have no one to cuddle with or during the holidays.
You can even start to feel less desirable the longer you stay single. Stop! You are beautiful and worthy of love.
Love will find you, as long as you stay confidently strong and not fall for the wrong men.
Here's the thing ladies, feeling sorry for yourself will make you a dumb, gullible, desperate dater—just keeping it real. Remind yourself that you are not that girl.
By believing we will only get mediocre (men who are not worthy of us), we will end up settling for men who are undeserving of us. Change your beliefs and the right man will follow.
Remember, there is no set time frame for love.
If you can't be patient with the dating process, you will continue to have disappointing, unsatisfying relationships.
A friend of mine has continually dated men who don't appreciate or genuinely love her. After each of these long drawn out negative relationships finally end, she will revise her list—reminding herself of all the traits she wants in a guy and highlights the ones she doesn't. Sounds a grate plan of action, right? Not in her case.
Her desperation to find love has made her dumb when it comes to dating. The second she meets a guy who showers her with attention (during the honeymoon stage of course), she will instantly disregard all the things that are important to her in a relationship. She will also jump into an exclusive relationship before getting to know him—ignoring any and all red flags.
By rushing the process of dating, she ends up having the same sob stories of how she is being mistreated, disrespected and emotionally, mentally and sometimes physically abused. Oh my! But, once she is in a relationship— fear of being alone—she won't end things—due to embarrassment of having another failed relationship. Poor dear.
What my friend still doesn't realize; to have a successful relationship, she needs to first be a smarter dater. Enjoy the process, ask the right questions and stop ignoring the red flags that keep appearing. She also needs to learn to love herself—unconditionally—so that she won't be so easily mesmerizing by the wrong men.
Taking the experiences we have learned and using them to empower us will only make us wiser daters.
A close friends of mine has started to date again. She has let her heart become open to the process of finding love. This was not an easy task for her because she has had her heart broken several times by men she trusted.
Getting back into the dating scene has been exciting, but simultaneously frightening for my friend.
Luckily, she is strapped with knowledge from her past experiences—and uses what she has learned to her advantage.
She is clear about what she wants (and what she won't put up with)—from any man and in a relationship. This information (although some painful) has made her an exceptionally smart dater. Yay!
My friend met a guy who matched most of her criteria. He was good looking (check), was an entrepreneur (check), successful (check), no kids, but wants them (check), funny (check), intelligent (check), passionate (check), easy to talk to and witty (check, check), and great at planning dates—basically he was what she was looking for….almost. Except…
A month into dating he became overly busy with work. In the beginning this was not a problem since he made the effort to keep the connection and communication strong between them. Then, the effort he was making started to dramatically fade—claiming it was due to work (hmm…?). So he was capable of making the effort but now he's not? Interesting.
Being a smarter dater means knowing your five nonnegotiable—things you will not accept from a guy which are important to you in order to have a successful relationship. I've said this before, these things are not superficial.
Not making time was an issue for my friend.
Having a man who respects her time is a non-negotiable, as well a man who will make time and consistently put forth the effort.
Pulling away because he was busy was an insult to my friend. She is also someone who is busy, but is open and willing to making time for the right guy.
Dating a guy who thinks it's OK to consistently cancel dates and change the times he is supposed to see her—was unacceptable.
Instead of dealing with his crappy behavior—due to his good looks and charm—she took matters into her own hands and ended the relationship. Good for her!
Ladies, dating is not always going to be easy. There are bound to be ups and down and feelings of excitement as well as disappointment. But, if you use the tools that you have been given from your past experiences to make you a smarter dater, you won't waste time keeping the doors to your heart open for the wrong man.
Bottom line, keep your heart open, trust your instincts and don't ignore the red flags that are in front of you. That, my friends . . . is the wisest way to find lasting love.