Standardized test and IQ scores are dropping and researchers wonder if the internet is to blame
By Jessica Stillman
Older people have been railing about the supposed deficiencies of the younger generation at least since ancient Greek philosopher Plato complained that the written word was destroying kids’ memories. It’s easy enough to dismiss these worries as grumpy old man grouchiness, but every once in a while, science offers alarming evidence that there really might be something wrong with kids these days.
One massive study of the entire male population of Norway suggests IQs have been steadily falling for decade, for instance. The findings have been debated, with ongoing arguments about whether the decline is real and what might be causing it, but apparently it’s not just our scores on intelligence tests that are sinking. So have our scores on standard tests of creativity.
The Torrance Test has been used for decades to evaluate creativity. That has allowed researchers to track how well scores on the test line up with achievement, and the results are clear: The Torrance Test is actually a better predictor of real-world success than traditional IQ tests. There’s only one hitch. Scores on the test may be scientifically valid but they have also apparently been creeping down for decades.
“A researcher at the University of William and Mary analyzed 300,000 Torrance Test scores since the ’50s. She found that creativity scores began to nosedive in 1990, about the time the internet was entering our lives. She concluded that we’re now facing a ‘creativity crisis,'” reported author Michael Easter on Medium recently.
That sounds alarming, but the good news is that, unlike the decline in IQ scores, scientists have a pretty good guess what’s causing our collective creativity to tank. Scientists blame “our hurried, over-scheduled lives” and “ever increasing amounts of (time) interacting with internet-based electronic entertainment devices,” Easter explains. The bad news, however, is that we show no signs of changing our ways.
Earlier research points to the internet in general for leading to the intellectual decline, pointing out that the decline is most pronounced among users of social media who spend hours a day on their cell phones. Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains,” terms the trend, “the great dumbing down.”
In short, we’re too busy and entertained for creativity to blossom. Gone are the days where childhood was largely spent in unsupervised rambles and imaginary play. And we’re generally just as over-scheduled and overstimulated as adults. Many folks in the middle of midlife pandemonium struggle to find time to keep up with their email and brush their teeth, more or less putter and ponder.
Which is just what creativity demands. Science shows that boredom actually increases creativity, as do activities like long walks (and showers) that demand just enough attention to allow our minds to wander. Einstein understood this. That’s why he spent hours floating on his sailboat letting his mind gestate the brilliant ideas that revolutionized our understanding of the cosmos.
Scientists are clear about the cause of our “creativity crisis” and they are clear on what individuals can do to reclaim their natural inventiveness. Actively scheduling time to think, reflect, and experiment into your days, putting reasonable boundaries on your use of passive tech (there are obviously countless ways to use your devices to express yourself and create), varying your routine and your company, and getting out for more long walks can all help ensure you’re bucking the trend and nurturing your personal creativity.
All of this is possible. To do it, however, means spending more time away from electronic entertainment and what some call the “glass teat.”
Jessica Stillman is a writer and editor covering lifestyle and entrepreneurship. She has written for TIME, Fast Company, Inc., Forbes and Business Insider.