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Are We Getting Smarter? Rising IQ Scores In the Twenty-First Century 421

Posted by Soulskill
from the we-sure-think-we-are dept.
hessian sends this excerpt from The New Republic: "[A] person who scored 100 a century ago would score 70 today; a person who tested as average a century ago would today be declared mentally retarded. This bizarre finding — christened the 'Flynn effect' by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray in The Bell Curve — has since snowballed so much supporting evidence that in 2007 Malcolm Gladwell declared in The New Yorker that 'the Flynn effect has moved from theory to fact.' But researchers still cannot agree on why scores are going up. Are we are simply getting better at taking tests? Are the tests themselves a poor measure of intelligence? Or do rising IQ scores really mean we are getting smarter? In spite of his new book's title, Flynn does not suggest a simple yes or no to this last question. It turns out that the greatest gains have taken place in subtests that measure abstract reasoning and pattern recognition, while subtests that depend more on previous knowledge show the lowest score increases. This imbalance may not reflect an increase in general intelligence, Flynn argues, but a shift in particular habits of mind. The question is not, why are we getting smarter, but the much less catchy, why are we getting better at abstract reasoning and little else?"
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Are We Getting Smarter? Rising IQ Scores In the Twenty-First Century

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  • Re:Simple... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MRe_nl (306212) on Friday October 26, 2012 @07:55AM (#41776501)

    I think everybody is born dumb. you're either kept dumb or raised in a way that makes you intelligent.

  • Re:Simple... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rich_hudds (1360617) on Friday October 26, 2012 @08:00AM (#41776569)
    Can't speak for Americans as I'm English but we are certainly not getting smarter.

    Why would we be getting smarter anyway? It's pretty obvious from reading old Greek or Roman texts that people are pretty much the same now as they've always been. Shakespeare shows that nothing much has changed in England for over 400 years.

    I thought the common explanation was that people are more used to thinking 'abstractly' in Western cultures. That's why people from outside the West still score more lowly even today.
  • by madprof (4723) on Friday October 26, 2012 @08:01AM (#41776577)

    IQ test are not worth a lot. The summarising of "intelligence" into a single figure is hopelessly blunt.
    Nice to see Pioneer Fund grant recipients Murray and Herrnstein getting a mention. Or are we supposed to forget the racist subtext of The Bell Curve?

  • by Shavano (2541114) on Friday October 26, 2012 @08:01AM (#41776587)
    Abstract reasoning used to be the almost exclusive province of mathematicians and philosophers. Now we teach it in schools.
  • 2 words (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Vinegar Joe (998110) on Friday October 26, 2012 @08:02AM (#41776601)

    Iodized salt.

  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Friday October 26, 2012 @08:06AM (#41776653)
    I think the definition of "smart" is subjective. As Jerrod Diamond pointed out in his book "Guns, Germs, and Steel," a scientist from California looks "smart" on a university campus, but looks like a complete idiot in the New Guinea jungle, where he struggles to follow a trail or build a shelter or find potable water. Similarly, the New Guinean jungle-dweller can improvise all kinds of things in the jungle but doesn't understand how to cross the street or maybe even turn a doorknob. Going beyond Diamond's point, I would say the New Guinean doesn't *need* abstract reasoning or formal logic, but he does probably need to use his brain power in ways I can't really predict because I'd be an idiot in the jungle, myself. So, who is "smarter?" Their environments require different competencies.
  • by stoicio (710327) on Friday October 26, 2012 @08:08AM (#41776681) Journal

    The gobal diet has improved and , believe it or not, environmental standards have improved.
    Less exposure to heavy metals and diets rich in protein and fat.

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Friday October 26, 2012 @08:09AM (#41776697) Homepage
    Many researchers disagree with Flynn about the cause of the Flynn effect. Two other common hypotheses are that lower parasite load in children leads to better functioning brains and older people will have bodies under less stress. Better nutrition does essentially the same thing. There's a fair bit of evidence for these hypotheses. For example, if nutrition levels matter then one would expect a lot more movement on the low end of IQ than on the high end and that's exactly what we see. http://synapse.princeton.edu/~brained/chapter15/colom_andres-pueyo05_intelligence_Spanish-schoolchildren-nutrition-hypothesis.pdf [princeton.edu]. Meanwhile, a good case for the parasite load hypothesis can be found http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160289611000286 [sciencedirect.com].
  • Not so strange (Score:4, Insightful)

    by medv4380 (1604309) on Friday October 26, 2012 @08:09AM (#41776701)
    Yea the IQ test has to be reballanced every so often to keep 100 at average, and what 100 is now is actually higher than 50 years ago. It's not that people are getting smarter though. It's that people are getting educated. If your average 50 years ago has a 30% illiteracy rate then if you decrease the illiteracy rate then it will appear that the population has gotten smarter. In part, that is true, but having more people educated just means that we are getting closer to our potential. Our maximum potential might not be moving at all, but it's hard to say where that is until the majority gets their maximum amount of education.
  • Re:Simple... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by alen (225700) on Friday October 26, 2012 @08:20AM (#41776809)

    those shows aren't any worse than the dumb sitcoms i used to watch in the 80's

    Family Ties, Different Strokes, One Day at a Time and lots of others. Friends was the peak of dumb sitcom and that's considered art now

    kids watch shows their parents think are dumb
    kids grow up and these shows become art because the people making the decisions on what art is used to consume that media
    the kids' kids watch new shows that the grown ups think are dumb
    repeat every generation

    same with music. my mother swore Ozzy and metal was a passing fad. and all the crap i used to listen to as a kid is now considered art

  • Re:Simple... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 26, 2012 @08:25AM (#41776859)

    > Why would we be getting smarter anyway? It's pretty obvious from reading old Greek or Roman texts that people are pretty much the same now as they've always been. Shakespeare shows that nothing much has changed in England for over 400 years.

    There's a selection bias there. We don't often hear from the idiots from ages past, or at least with unbiased weighting.

  • by gr8_phk (621180) on Friday October 26, 2012 @08:27AM (#41776887)

    Abstract reasoning used to be the almost exclusive province of mathematicians and philosophers. Now we teach it in schools.

    Perhaps, but we also use it now. We teach and use it on our electronic devices. Remember the "desktop metaphor"? People including kids regularly manipulate things through at least one layer of abstraction. We build this in starting around 3 years old these days.

    Example:
    My kid wants some new song on moms iPod, we have to "get it" on there. They navigate through the "store" to find it, then "buy it" and now it resides somewhere on the iPod where it wasn't before. While we take if for granted, this virtual world is far more abstract than buying a physical CD (record, tape) off the store shelf and then having to put it in/on a physical device to play it.

    I have often suspected one of the reasons bilingual people tend to score as smarter is that they have abstracted the physical world away from the concept of "the word is the thing" out of necessity. Once you have a more abstract concept of a thing with words associated with it, you can think about it somehow at a more abstract level. I wonder if some of our virtual things these days are giving some of that benefit.

    That and the fact that they teach reading earlier - my first grader could read most of this post, whereas I remember reading Dick and Jane around that age.

  • Re:Simple... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Maximum Prophet (716608) on Friday October 26, 2012 @08:28AM (#41776907)
    Shakespeare couldn't spell his own name, and his handwriting was atrocious.

    Only the best (according to the church) Greek and Latin texts survived. Of course they seem smart to us. The musings of the sub-literate didn't survive. Except for the graffiti on the walls of the bath houses in Pompeii, we don't know much about the low brow Roman.

    This is like looking at the mansions in the old part of town and saying, "They sure knew how to build things in those days". Only the most well built house survived so it looks like there was more craftmenship 100 years ago.
  • Re:Simple... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Baloroth (2370816) on Friday October 26, 2012 @08:31AM (#41776961)

    Jersey shore peaks at less than 10 million watchers. Which sounds like a lot, until you realize that the US has ~300 million people, so it's ~3%. Even if you assume ten such shows watched by unique individuals, that'd be 100 million (less than, but still close enough), or 1/3 of the population. Considering that 1/2 of the populace has lower than (or equal to) 100 IQ, by definition, it isn't shocking that such shows are mildly popular.

    And they had entertainment that bad 50-100 years ago as well. You just don't know about it, because crap like that tends not to be recorded and watched 100 years later.

  • IQ is BS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by P-niiice (1703362) on Friday October 26, 2012 @08:33AM (#41776995)
    The reason is, IQ testing is subjective horseshit. People can be taught to think in a certain way, and people in an environment who think a certain way will do better than people who are in an environment where that 'way of thinking' isn't leraned/taught/reinforced.

    When I started my first engineering job, I passed all of my courses pretty handily, but I still didn't know how to think for the job. My mentor told me this, and every beginning engineer he ran into had to learn how to think in the correct way. I spent all my co-op experience thinking for what was basically Engineering IT projects, and not product design stuff.

    My IQ is a 142 by my last test, but it's only because of years of tech work. If I lived on a farm all my life and never did the variety of jobs I've done, there's no way I could score that.
  • Re:Simple... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by daem0n1x (748565) on Friday October 26, 2012 @08:48AM (#41777173)
    Care to back you allegations with some data? I call bullshit.
  • Re:Simple... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jvkjvk (102057) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:04AM (#41777405)

    I, on the other hand, prefer to think the exact opposite.

    I think most people are born intelligent. You are either enabled to form the correct neural connections or raised in a way that makes your intelligence degrade significantly.

  • Re:IQ is BS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:11AM (#41777481) Homepage

    It may be that IQ isn't useful as more than a rough approximation. But it isn't "BS". The evidence for some form of general intelligence in the form of a g-factor http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G_factor_(psychometrics) [wikipedia.org] is extremely robust. That's why for example the largest consumer and designer of intelligence tests in the world is the US military. They've found that soldiers who perform better on standadized tests learn faster and are less likely to engage in fatal accidents or friendly fire. That's why all soldiers take the ASVAB and they don't let the low scorers enlist http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ASVAB [wikipedia.org]. Similarly, the Wonderlic test http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonderlic_Test [wikipedia.org] which emphasizes speed and precision rather than difficult puzzles correlates highly with IQ. The current version is actually designed to do that, but if some form of g-factor wasn't present it really shouldn't be possible to make such a test correlate so strongly with a long test emphasizing different skills.

    It is likely that beyond a certain point, IQ scores don't matter. But a 15 or 20 point difference is both statistically robust and relevant to simply put, how intelligent someone is.

  • by geekoid (135745) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `dnaltropnidad'> on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:27AM (#41777737) Homepage Journal

    "Despite being exceptionally bright"

    haha. your posts say otherwise.

  • Re:Simple... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gosand (234100) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:28AM (#41777757)

    I think we would be getting smarter because there's a greater wealth of knowledge for us to draw on.
    We stand on the shoulders that have come before us. We don't have to do as much trial and error when we know some things to be fact... which means we can figure out new things.

    Since a century is but a blip of time, it might be hard to really get a solid measurement on it. The real question is, 100 years ago did they ask the question about whether or not they were smarter than the people from 100 years before that? :)

  • Re:Simple... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:31AM (#41777805)

    The MASH DVDs give you the option of watching the show without a laugh track. It's amazing how that one simple change makes it a much better show—you notice not just the big jokes, but the more sophisticated, subtler things as well.

    Fewer and fewer modern shows have laugh tracks.

  • Re:Simple... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by quintus_horatius (1119995) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:51AM (#41778089) Homepage

    What blew my mind is seeing colleges have a "college arithmetic" course. I thought college algebra was one thing, but having to learn long division at the university level?

    More people than ever before are seeking (and getting) education beyond high school. The best and the brightest have always gone, but colleges and universities are opening up to lower quality students - those with less education upon arrival. The institutions are simply providing an educational service to a group that needs it.

    Don't get worked up over higher education hewing to its mandate, which is to provide an education to all (and possibly make some money while doing it by selling you some remedial courses to ease you along). Be happy that people aren't turning their noses up at it. It improves society for everyone.

  • Re:Simple... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dishevel (1105119) on Friday October 26, 2012 @10:09AM (#41778413)

    While the plot of Idiocracy is in fact not fact...
    It does make sense that if the smart breed at lower rates than the stupid the number of stupid will rise.

  • Re:Simple... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ironhandx (1762146) on Friday October 26, 2012 @10:51AM (#41779049)

    Let me google that for you.

    http://lmgtfy.com/?q=intelligence+linked+to+genes [lmgtfy.com]

    Science daily has two separate articles on it within the first 3 results.

    Wanting yourself to be able to be just as special a snowflake as anyone else "If I really wanted to be I could!" doesn't make it so.

  • Re:Simple... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by 19thNervousBreakdown (768619) <davec-slashdot@l ... et minus caffein> on Friday October 26, 2012 @11:30AM (#41779563) Homepage

    Everybody tests as gifted. Seriously. Go find someone who came out "normal".

    And if you can find me a cokehead that doesn't claim to have turned down an ivy league scholarship (that was actually just a cover for the real offer of a CIA wetwork job), I'll eat my hat.

  • Re:Simple... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hackula (2596247) on Friday October 26, 2012 @12:31PM (#41780371)
    Is it just me, or does everyone on the entire internet claim to have an IQ ~150? Where is the other 99.9663019177% of the population?

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