Requiem for nutrition as the cause of IQ gains: Raven's gains in Britain 1938-2008

Econ Hum Biol. 2009 Mar;7(1):18-27. doi: 10.1016/j.ehb.2009.01.009. Epub 2009 Feb 2.


The hypothesis that enhanced nutrition is mainly responsible for massive IQ gains over time borrows plausibility from the height gains of the 20th century. However, evidence shows that the two trends are largely independent. A detailed analysis of IQ trends on the Raven's Progressive Matrices tests in Britain dramatizes the poverty of the nutrition hypothesis. A multiple factor hypothesis that operates on three levels is offered as an alternative instrument of causal explanation. The Raven's data show that over the 65 years from circa 1942 to the present, taking ages 5-15 together, British school children have gained 14 IQ points for a rate of 0.216 points per year. However, since 1979, gains have declined with age and between the ages of 12-13 and 14-15, small gains turn into small losses. This is confirmed by Piagetian data and poses the possibility that the cognitive demands of teen-age subculture have been stagnant over perhaps the last 30 years.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • England
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / physiology*
  • Intelligence Tests* / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Nutritional Status*