European researchers are claiming that an average Victorian from the late 1800s is more intelligent than modern-day person.

A new study controversially tested intelligence by comparing visual reaction times (RT) of people from the Victorian era to the RT of modern Western populations.

The researchers said that this approach is used as an alternative to comparing IQ levels because education and society at the time were very different and because IQ testing is often biased. As a result, RT was used as a way to measure elementary cognition or to use minimal mental processing to accomplish a task.

The Victorian period was the year Queen Victoria began her reign from 1837 until her death in 1901. Some historians say that many of the growing middle-class Victorians were perceived "prudish, hypocritical, stuffy, [and] narrow-minded" because they sought nobility.

It was also a time when the culture in Britain was booming with interest in literature, theater, and art, while technological and medical inventions were also quickly improving quality of life.

In the study, researchers examined RT tests that were performed between 1884 to 2004 and concluded that the response times increased over time, meaning reaction was slower in more modern-day people.

Specifically, men's responses increased from 183 ms to 253 ms, while women's jumped from 188 ms to 261 ms. leading the researchers to conclude that people became less intelligent over time.

Furthermore, they speculated the reason behind this observation was that intellects were having less children, while less intelligent individuals decided to have more.

Experts have shown individuals with a high IQ perform faster on RT tests, and for children, their speed of processing functions such as counting, repeating, and developing motor skills increases with age.

Nevertheless, there is no solid study that found RT is a precise measure of intelligence, and this study in particular did not show whether the subjects taking the RT tests were chosen at random.

The findings were published in the journal Intelligence.

Source: Woodley MA, Nijenhuis J, Murphy R. Were the Victorians cleverer than us? The decline in general intelligence estimated from a meta-analysis of the slowing of simple reaction time. Intelligence. 2013,