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I've been randomly looking up stuff about the movie Idiocracy. After watching a video on youtube claiming that the world of Idiocracy is actually a Utopia (because the world seems to not have the problems that real-world incompetence causes), that got me thinking: what would a world where everyone had below average intelligence actually look like?

However, I've been having a hard time doing research for this topic. I've tried to look up what people with an iq of 80 are actually like, only to find widely contradicting claims as to their capabilities. I found one who claimed he couldn't even drive a car because he was so bad at multi-tasking. Another claimed that they can function in society perfectly fine, but with the caveat that they couldn't take any jobs that require a degree. Another claimed that their 80 iq was enough to get them classified as 'special' (even though I thought you had to have an IQ of 70 or lower for that, but what do I know?)

The problem with such a conworld, regardless of whether we're talking about a world with below or above average intelligence, is that we have no real-world examples to draw on. Yes, there's people with non-average IQ scores, but they've lived their whole lives in a society where they're the minority (obviously). This means that, honestly, real-world people with non-average IQs simply could never give us an idea of what a world would be like if they were the norm. For instance, one common thing I've come across is that people with below-average IQs tend to suffer from an inferiority complex. Questionable reliability aside, if this was true, it certainly wouldn't be true in a world where they were the norm. Also, its not really possible for a person to realistically write a character that's smarter than they are. And as for below-average intelligence, I just don't know where I could look to get realistic information. The movie itself was clearly not based on research (and really, the movie was intended to be a satire of consumerism anyway). All I can really say for a fact is that people with below-average IQ don't talk in the stereotypical way you often seen protrayed in media. And this is something I've long known from my studies in linguistics; people who seriously are 'special' don't make grammatical errors or pronunciation mistakes (unless they have some kind of problem with motor skills), but they do demonstrate a (relatively) limited vocabulary.

So yeah, how could I find reliable research on this, and could anyone reveal to me their own research (preferably with citations) into this matter?

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  • $\begingroup$ To see what a world with lower IQ scores is like, you need look no further than the first half of the 20th century! en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flynn_effect $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Jul 11 at 0:39
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    $\begingroup$ I would note that IQ is a (one) standardized metric that is used to try to measure intelligence therefore if a world had people with significantly lower intelligence on average, (Assuming they had the same concept of an IQ test we do) then the average person there would have the same as the average person in our world - namely 100. This is also way too broad as it stands now $\endgroup$ – katatahito Jul 11 at 0:39
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    $\begingroup$ I doubt there would be any research on this. You wouldn't get much funding trying to figure out what an alternative world full of low IQ people would work. As a interesting note IQ isn't an accurate measure of intelligence. Results can vary depending on the type of test and the nature of the questions asked. You should also never underestimate the ingenuity of stupid people. $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Jul 11 at 1:11
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    $\begingroup$ "A world where everyone had below average intelligence": you do realize that this is impossible, don't you? In any world, some people will have average intelligence, some will be more intelligent than the average, and some less intelligent than the average. And IQ cannot be used for comparisons across time and space; in any population of interest the average IQ is by definition 100. The population of interest must be a natural group; it is meaningless to give the same test to American middle schoolers and Kazakh factory workers and pretend that the results tell anything useful. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jul 11 at 4:06
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP a world where everyone agrees they have below average intelligence is one that perfectly fits the OP's requirements! $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Jul 11 at 6:45
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There are places in the world where IQ is low.

This table. https://www.worlddata.info/iq-by-country.php ranks countries by average IQ. There are 12 with average IQ less than 70 and 25 countries with average IQ less than 80. Equatorial Guinea is last place with average IQ of 56, which is pretty low and that is the average, meaning lots of people are even lower.

There are, of course, many objections people have made about this cross country comparison. Using IQ tests to evaluate people in third world countries might be inappropriate in several different ways. Also the Netherlands came in #8 with average IQ of 102! Can that be??

So take this with a grain of salt. But you might use it to help build your world. Consider the culture, economics and lifestyles of the places where people are supposedly low IQ and use that as a model for your world.

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    $\begingroup$ @user56262: you can read more on this premise here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nations_and_intelligence. I personally don't think it is solid enough social science to make policy but this is WB stack not the League of Nations. As a guide for worldbuilding it could serve. Also you wanted real world and you wanted data not stereotypes: this is what there is. The inhabitants of these countries are actual people. $\endgroup$ – Willk Jul 13 at 13:01
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Realistically, lowering IQ doesn't alter our society all that much, it just slows down the rate of change.

To understand why, we need to understand what intelligence actually is; it's the ability to identify and recognise patterns of varying levels of complexity and completeness. We know this because we've had to define it for the purposes of AI research. You can't create artificial intelligence if you don't know what natural intelligence is.

So; a society of people with lower average intelligence is still going to have the same problems we do, and are still going to employ their (relatively) smart people to solve them. But, because they won't have the same capacity to see complex patterns that we do, or won't be able to recognise patterns that are only partially complete (and infer the remainder) they will take longer to do research. They will also take longer to do development, or engineer solutions to known problems based on that research.

But ultimately, the society won't look all that different to our own in the end, it will just take longer to get there. If you want a society rooted in the past in terms of technology or simpler lifestyles, tweaking intelligence isn't what is going to get you there. What you really need to do is tweak curiosity.

I have personally met many highly intelligent people who just don't put that intelligence to any practical use. Some actually can't. Sure, you can argue that in some cases this is a side effect of being on the Autism spectrum but high functioning, but often the people I meet in this category that I meet are not on the spectrum; they're just not naturally curious.

An intelligent person may well learn to do a certain job or life function amazingly well, but then not get bored with it. Not want to improve his or her life in any way, or make a mark on society by leaving it a legacy of new ideas. Alternately, I've seen engineers that are not naturally talented in their field excel because of sheer hard work, passionately pursuing a given interest because of genuine curiosity.

Tweaking both together, you end up with an interesting society that has some spectacular advances in some areas, but not in others. They're probably more likely to solve social problems or make a steady stream of tactical or incremental updates to their lives to make them easier, but are unlikely to make as many of those massive leaps that are made possible with things like the Maxwell Equations.

But a society of inquisitive dullards (by comparison to us) could be a lot closer to our own level of technology and societal development than one might think.

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  • $\begingroup$ Another thing to note, is that IQ doesn't take into account the various cognitive biases that are inherent to the human mind. They play a significant role in how successful humans are in life, possibly even more so than general intelligence. $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Jul 11 at 1:30
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It's not just IQ, it's distribution on the curve, and the location of outliers.

If your society clusters around the average, then you have problems. If, however, you are generating people well above average, you're in business.

If, say your average IQ was 85, with a sharp drop off on the curve below 70, but a slope producing maybe 5% of individuals over 100, topping off at 140, with the upper .5% between 128 and 140, you'd do fine as a society.

Edit for more detail

Contrary to popular belief, low IQ does not mean savage or helpless. Low IQ brings some strengths to the table, such as a lack of boredom, a sense of accomplishment for completing even simple tasks, and a bit of drive (I should note that I am autistic, and while functional, I've done MUCH work with people with IQs below 85. They are certainly not helpless. They learn at a much slower pace, and may lack in some organizational skills, but they also tend not to lie, and can do repetitive tasks without getting bored or distracted.

The low end could be educated (all be it slowly) and, possibly over time, raise the average IQ. Those at the top may even devise methods of increasing nutritional and environmental factors to bring up the species as a whole.

Things would likely rise more slowly, as you'd have few people to engage in theoretical thought, but the lower end is good at concrete thinking, and would likely have far more 'common sense' than we are used to seeing

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  • $\begingroup$ The average matters too. It is an exaggeration, but what could Einstein do surrounded by Gorillas? What could you do? $\endgroup$ – Lupus Jul 11 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Lupus I'm autistic and have worked with people with very low IQs, including people with Downs and low functioning autistics. People are not Gorillas. What I could do with these people would be to teach them very simple tasks, and have them do them. $\endgroup$ – Richard U Jul 11 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ Like I said exaggeration. Naturally they are not! Ok, simple task... can you teach them to drive? But let's say you can. You need a sufficient number of engineers, doctors, ... for a given population. If only a very small percent can perform those jobs, our level of society won't function. $\endgroup$ – Lupus Jul 11 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ What evidence do you have that education can raise IQ? $\endgroup$ – puppetsock Jul 11 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ There IS a well-known correlation between education and IQ. The reason for the correlation is disputed, but it would seem getting an education while young results in higher IQs as an adult. This is believed to be the reason why societies with poor education tend to score lower on IQ tests relative to highly educated societies. $\endgroup$ – user66386 Jul 11 at 19:39
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If you scroll down this wikipedia article to the part about job performance, you find the US military has a lower limit of IQ of 85. Below this it is not worthwhile to have an individual in the army since they can't be trained to do tasks that are a net contribution. So if 80 were the average, having a military would be quite a challenge.

This wikipedia article indicates that there is a relation between IQ and crime for all races. The highest crime rate is between 80 and 90. So a culture with average IQ about 80 would probably have higher crime rates than we do, but it would be the guys at the "smart" end that were the most criminal.

This indicates that CEOs of major companies have an IQ in the range of 125. So with an IQ average of 80 you are not going to have a lot of large corporations. Similar comments apply to jobs such as university professor, doctor, engineer, etc.

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    $\begingroup$ This feels like a misconception to me. The crime/IQ-Relation should be taken in context: if the average IQ was 80 (no, it's always 100, but never mind), then your criminals were more between 65 and 72 or so. Meaning: slightly below average. So, keep in mind: IQ is not an absolute but a relative measure. $\endgroup$ – Burki Jul 11 at 15:05
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I think there are at least two important things to consider:

First, people have been less intelligent than they are today, so yes, we do have worlds for comparison, in our own past.

Second: IQ is relative, with and IQ of 100 being a marker for "average", and the spread within a world population is greater than the difference in averages that you are suggesting. So you can have very smart people in a population that has low average intelligence. Just as well as you can have stupid people in a world of very high average intelligence.

And you should note that no matter how high the average intelligence, most inventions, be they technological, sociological or whatnot, are made by a microscopic fraction of your total population.

That said, i don't think your world would differ much from ours. Even if it would look a bit medieval, so did our world not too long ago.

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  • $\begingroup$ Other than "I think", what evidence do you have to back up your answer? $\endgroup$ – puppetsock Jul 11 at 15:50

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