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

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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  • Simple... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wbr1 ( 2538558 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @08:49AM (#41776431)
    I have to abstract myself away from shit like Jersey Shore, Real Housewives, Survivor, Jaywalking, etc. The things I hear pass for intelligent conversation now scare and enrage me. I for one do not believe American's at least are getting any smarter.
    • Re:Simple... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MRe_nl ( 306212 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @08:55AM (#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, Interesting)

        by Ironhandx ( 1762146 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:26AM (#41776879)

        This is only true to an extent. There is a very strong relationship between your genetics and your intelligence however.

        For example a kid born from parents with IQ's below 90 is adopted and raised by smart parents(say 140+) He's almost certainly going to be smarter than his biological parents. He is also almost certainly never going to be as smart as his adopted parents.

        I see this causing problems in adopted kids households all the time. Parents are smart, parents waited too long to have kids, adopted baby from trailer trash that were too dumb to not procreate. Kid gets into his teens, school gets harder, parents can't understand why the kid is having so much trouble with stuff they breezed through, and neither can the kid because he doesn't know he's adopted(which just adds more frustration), and it causes a whole lot of tension.

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

          by dmbasso ( 1052166 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:47AM (#41777157)

          You are jumping to the conclusion that it is genetic related, when the anecdote you brought ("adopted baby from trailer trash") is most probably better explained by the consequences of development while in the womb. Or do you think a baby (whatever the genetic code) can develop normally within a system flooded with cortisol, alcohol, nicotine, etc.?

          • It gets even more confused in the UK where most adoptions aren't of babies, but of young children who have been taken into care by social services.. The first few months and years of a child's development are absolutely crucial, generally the birth mother/parents are guilty of at least serious neglect, even when there's no actual abuse. It's a miracle most adopted children end up as normal and balanced as they do, but it gets progressively harder the older the kids are when adopted. If a child has been ne
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by daem0n1x ( 748565 )
          Care to back you allegations with some data? I call bullshit.
          • Re:Simple... (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Ironhandx ( 1762146 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @11:51AM (#41779049)

            Let me google that for you.


            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.

        • Not so Simple... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by MRe_nl ( 306212 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @11:47AM (#41778995)

          Intelligence varies with at least 21 factors
          Some of the other circumstances and attributes that have been found to vary to a greater or lesser (but always significant) extent in relation with IQ (Bouchard & Segal, 1985; Liungman, 1975) - note that not all of these relationships support an environmental view.
          Intelligence varies with:

          Infant malnutrition (-ve)
          Birth weight
          Birth order
          Number of siblings (-ve)
          Number of years in school
          Social group of parental home
          Father's profession
          Father's economic status
          Degree of parental rigidity (-ve)
          Parental ambition
          Mother's education
          Average TV viewing (-ve)
          Average book-reading
          Self-confidence according to attitude scale measurement
          Age (negative relationship, applies only in adulthood)
          Degree of authority in parental home (-ve)
          Criminality (-ve)
          Alcoholism (-ve)
          Mental disease (-ve)
          Emotional adaptation

          "No single environmental factor seems to have a large influence on IQ. Variables widely believed to be important are usually weak....Even though many studies fail to find strong environmental effects....most of the factors studied do influence IQ in the direction predicted by the investigator....environmental effects are multifactorial and largely unrelated to each other."
          - Bouchard & Segal (1985), p.452

        • by Grismar ( 840501 )

          I agree with your point; that intelligence is not just nurture but also nature and that genetics play a role in this. Whether that link is "very" strong, is probably up for debate.

          However, you open yourself up for serious criticism with a poor example. After all, IQ test do not (just) measure your genetic predisposition for greater intelligence. So, the parents with an IQ of 90 may well have been genetically predisposed for high intelligence, but raised in an environment that failed to capitalize on this. P

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

        by jvkjvk ( 102057 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @10:04AM (#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.

        • by Squiddie ( 1942230 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @10:12AM (#41777503)
          If babies are so intelligent, how come they shit themselves. Check-mate.
          • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 26, 2012 @10:18AM (#41777597)
            Because they've trained their servants to clean up after them, freeing them from such menial tasks so they can spend their time thinking about the important questions in life, like, "Is that shiny colorful thing a symbol for modern materialism, or simply a locus of baser desires that should be sated."
        • 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.

          As Wordsworth said:

          Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
          The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
          Hath had elsewhere its setting,
          And cometh from afar:
          Not in entire forgetfulness,
          And not in utter nakedness,
          But trailing clouds of glory do we come
          From God, who is our home.

          It's a nice idea, but ultimately unconvincing for the simple reason that babies are tedious food processing machines and not exactly known for their sparkling wit.

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

        by LordLimecat ( 1103839 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @10:04AM (#41777409)

        I think part of the problem is that noone seems to have a consistent definition of "intelligent", and sometimes it gets conflated with "wise" or "experienced" or "knowledgeable".

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

        No, you are born as intelligent as you will ever be. It's all downhill from there. Everything from chemicals to injury will decrease intelligence, which you are confusing with education.

        On the other hand, you are born more ignorant than you will ever be -- you are born knowing absolutely nothing except how to suck a tit.

        You confuse ignorance with stupidity. Ignorance is the lack of knowledge, stupidity is the lack of ability to learn.

        That said, I'm getting less intelligent and less ignorant, both at once, a

        • What exactly is your basis of this imagination from? Beyond it being completely incorrect and defining yourself as both ignorant and stupid, where do you come up with this? Please don't tell me this is that "you only have so many brain cells" misnomer which has been scientifically proven to be incorrect.

    • by Dupple ( 1016592 )

      Similar here. I hardly ever watch TV now apart from documentaries and the BBC news. Popular entertainment seems to consist of shows where a crowd is encouraged to yell and scream at talentless twats or Soap Operas that aim to entertain people with no lives by distracting them with a fictional one.

      Watch, rinse, repeat.

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

        by Paul Jakma ( 2677 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:23AM (#41776831) Homepage Journal

        BBC News is pretty simplistic too. It's good for getting a broad overview, but if there's any story you're interested in you'll almost certainly have to go somewhere else if you want to get actual detail. Channel 4 news are better at detail, but sometimes prone to over editorialising.

        • by Dupple ( 1016592 )

          I tend to agree, I see the news as a feeder to documentaries or web searches. It the editorialising on C4 I don't like, but the reporting is top notch.

        • Channel 4 news are better at detail, but sometimes prone to over editorialising.

          Wait.. WHAT!?!?

          Oh dear.. for a moment I thought you meant 4chan. My Idiocracy was flaring up.

        • BBC News is pretty simplistic too. It's good for getting a broad overview, but if there's any story you're interested in you'll almost certainly have to go somewhere else if you want to get actual detail. Channel 4 news are better at detail, but sometimes prone to over editorialising.

          To be honest, you're better off reading a decent newspaper (dead tree or web version). In the half hour it takes to watch the TV news, you can amass a lot more detailed information from the 'paper.

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

      by rich_hudds ( 1360617 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:00AM (#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.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        > 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.

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

        by ToadProphet ( 1148333 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:28AM (#41776901)

        Your examples use the very brightest of those civilizations and doesn't necessarily disagree with TFA. It's entirely plausible that the brightest of today may not be any more intelligent then the brightest from centuries ago, but that average intelligence has risen due to access to information, public education, etc.

        • we know intelligence to fall on a Gaussian curve. If we track any remarkable point on that curve, be it the median or the hundredth percentile, we should see a similar trend. If we do not, then it is not human capabilities which changed, but their spread.

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

        by Maximum Prophet ( 716608 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:28AM (#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, Interesting)

        by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @10:22AM (#41777649) Homepage
        Yes, actually you have been getting smarter, and in ways that are sometimes subtle and not obvious. However, the Flynn effect leveled off in Great Britain about 20 years ago [] But until recently it was statistically robust.

        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 are two serious issues with this claim. First, most (although not all) of the Flynn effect has occurred on the lower end of the intelligence spectrum. That means that the smartest people may not be that much smarter, but the average intelligence has still gone up by a lot. See for example []. Second, people today seem to be in some ways smarter than many of the smart people a few thousand years ago. For example, it used to be a big deal that someone was able to read so well that they didn't need to murmur to themselves or move their lips, whereas now we consider reading out loud a sign of stupidity []. It is possible that part of this difference was simply cultural, and that silent reading was purely a matter of education and norms. But the fact that some old sources considered silent reading a sign of intelligence suggests otherwise.

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

        by gosand ( 234100 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @10:28AM (#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:5, Insightful)

      by alen ( 225700 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:20AM (#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

    • There is a new line of thought. If people practice something for 10,000 hours they become an expert. Now people with higher IQ, may be able to practice harder things to be an expert. But the IQ test isn't a test in how smart you are, but your possible mental potential. I do not have the highest IQ, I am well above average but not off the charts type. I have worked with people with off the charts IQ. They use the fact that they were told that they were super smart as a reason to not work hard, thus the

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

      by crazyjj ( 2598719 ) * on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:31AM (#41776949)

      shit like Jersey Shore, Real Housewives, Survivor, Jaywalking, etc.

      Conversely, compare modern dramas and comedies with their counterparts from 30-40 years ago. Even the network stuff has gotten a LOT more sophisticated, with complex plotlines and subplots spanning across multiple seasons that regularly employ devices like symbolism and metaphor, creative mixes of genres, etc. Now go back and look at the old stuff and realize that it wasn't that long ago that it was considered that all prime-time television should consist entirely of self-contained episodes with simple plots (even subplots were once avoided) that beat you over the head with every point. Seriously, just compare the original Star Trek sometime with something like new Battlestar Galactica for a check on how far pop culture has really come in the last 40 years. Sure, 90% of everything is still shit (and always will be). But, overall, our popular entertainment today is WAY more intelligent than it was just a few decades ago. Even our lamest sitcoms are more intelligent today than anything you would have encountered in the disco era. Even M.A.S.H. seems anachronistically silly by today's standards.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        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 Baloroth ( 2370816 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:31AM (#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.

    • by durrr ( 1316311 )

      You're on the right track.
      The real answer is that while humans have actually been getting more stupid, the IQ tests have been even more so.

  • by SirGarlon ( 845873 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @08:55AM (#41776505)

    Most IQ tests are in written form, so they can only be administered to children and adults old enough to read. So, only people who've been exposed to at least kindergarten plus (for a lot of people) preschool.

    I am not a teacher, but I would venture to say that a whole buckload of evidence-based developmental psychology has gone into improving the educational system since 1912. Plus, things like school enrollment have gone way up. In 1912 a lot of rural kids -- and most people lived in the country -- went to one-room schoolhouses.

    So I would think that IQ scores should go up in the competency areas schools have been trying to cultivate. And I would say, thinking about how different the education system probably is today, I'd be more surprised if nothing had changed.

    • by jittles ( 1613415 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:05AM (#41776643)

      Most IQ tests are in written form, so they can only be administered to children and adults old enough to read. So, only people who've been exposed to at least kindergarten plus (for a lot of people) preschool.

      I am not a teacher, but I would venture to say that a whole buckload of evidence-based developmental psychology has gone into improving the educational system since 1912. Plus, things like school enrollment have gone way up. In 1912 a lot of rural kids -- and most people lived in the country -- went to one-room schoolhouses.

      So I would think that IQ scores should go up in the competency areas schools have been trying to cultivate. And I would say, thinking about how different the education system probably is today, I'd be more surprised if nothing had changed.

      They do have non-written IQ tests that they give in certain circumstances. My school had me take an IQ test in 4th grade. They thought I cheated on it and made me take it again. The second time I was being monitored by someone from the school district. The second test they gave me was not written at all. They gave me physical puzzles and had me solve different challenges and measured the time it took me to solve each puzzle. I don't know how accurate the written test is compared to the physical test, but I am sure it is much more expensive to administer the second test over the first.

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by jellomizer ( 103300 )

        You like to gloat don't you?

        • No I don't. In fact a few years ago I had a head injury and am definitely not as smart as I used to be. Besides, you never know, I could have grown up in some redneck school where anything higher than 100 was considered abnormal. Or what if they thought they saw me looking at other peoples tests? There could be a million reasons why they thought I cheated, and I never specified which. I don't even know what the results of said test were, because my parents would not tell me.
    • My guess would be social stability and conditions. Even a poor person today in the US has access to resources and time saving devices that a wealthy person a hundred years ago could only dream of. As people have more time to spend on improving themselves and being able to focus on their education, that's what they do. Also access to information has increased considerably, travel may broaden the mind but there's a lot of information readily available on the TV and the internet.

    • by gmuslera ( 3436 )

      Maybe more than literacy the key is culture. This culture. And it includes a lot of implicit/explicit things that are similar to those iq tests (i.e. pattern matching games).

      Anyway, you can't measure people from different cultures (and yes, even in the same country and city, today's culture is different from the one 20 years ago) with the same ruler.

    • There are IQ tests that are geared towards 2 year olds.
      Oddly, what you mentioned are not the big factors. IQ is set early in life – say before 5. What matters is improved:
      Prenatal health. More folic acid, less drinking by mom.
      Better environments: Less lead in the paint, more calories to eat - even empty.
      Better early childhood education. See Planet Money for a good story. []

  • Our World (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Murdoch5 ( 1563847 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @08:58AM (#41776549)
    100 years ago your day included throwing on overalls and going farming. Everything was X, Y, Z, you could write it down, follow it and have it work. Even the early industrial movement showed thinking that followed X, Y, Z. As humanity has progressed and started to apply philosophical ideals to tasks we have developed systems where a job that was once X, Y, Z is now a complex equation of variable introduction. Fundamentally everything has seen this shift, from farming up to global commerce. So why have the IQ score gone up, well I would say it's probably because of the mental level of application required to grasp the basic ideas.
  • the obvious cause (Score:5, Interesting)

    by slashmydots ( 2189826 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @08:59AM (#41776557)
    If you practice at something for years, you get better at it. I played video games for a lot of years and now I'm a puzzle-solving genius by 100 years ago standards. It's all because of video games.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Honestly, I think your right. Games are just one example, but yea people also have more time to dedicate to the obscure intellects. Maybe that answers the underlying question he asks.

      It seems to stand to reason that when your not forced by nature to be spending every minute of every day worrying about your survival. Imagine how much work it must have been to hand till or even horse till a field. Regular hunting for food. The hours spend washboarding your clothes, and the difficulty of shopping daily
  • by ewg ( 158266 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @08:59AM (#41776563)

    I know I'm personally getting smarter: recently stopped reading YouTube comments!

  • by madprof ( 4723 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:01AM (#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 __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:01AM (#41776587)
    Abstract reasoning used to be the almost exclusive province of mathematicians and philosophers. Now we teach it in schools.
    • by gr8_phk ( 621180 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:27AM (#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.

      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.

  • I would argue that the mountain of choices we have available to us now compared to 100 years ago would account for some the gains in abstract reasoning measurements. 100 year ago: Rabbit A or Rabbit B didn't matter much. The store only had a few brands of any particular product, if they were even branded at all. Today - Shoes: sneakers, loafers, sandals, pumps, flat, Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Nunn Bush, Bass, brown, black, leather, synthetic, Air, laces, straps, etc. We have to choose what we think wi
  • 2 words (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Vinegar Joe ( 998110 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:02AM (#41776601)

    Iodized salt.

  • by ls671 ( 1122017 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:02AM (#41776605) Homepage

    IQ is relative, so even if people were getting smarter on average, they should not score higher in IQ tests : []

    When an IQ test is constructed, a standardization sample representative of the general population takes the test. The median result is defined to be equivalent to 100 IQ points. In almost all modern tests, a standard deviation of the results is defined to be equivalent to 15 IQ points. When a subject takes an IQ test, the result is ranked compared to the results of the standardization sample and the subject is given an IQ score equal to those with the same test result in the standardization sample.

    • Interesting point. So perhaps the explanation is simple: the Lake Wobegon effect [].
    • And? They have to regularly readjust the raw scores upwards to keep the score required to be average at 100. If they didn't, the previous years' raw scores for 100 would shift the curve so that most people get a score of 101 or more.

      Realize that there is a time component to the scores as well, as averages cannot be found for a single, instantaneous point in time. Because of this, people taking IQ tests furthest forward in time for a time range that the raw scores are calculated for will, in fact, tend to ha
  • by SirGarlon ( 845873 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:06AM (#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 jfruh ( 300774 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:21AM (#41776815)

      Sorry this is uncited, but I remember reading about an IQ test that western researchers tried to give to residents of a rural African village sometime in the mid-to-late 20th century. Most of the villagers were illiterate, so the crux was developing a test that didn't involve reading or writing. One of the test items involved a bunch of abstract shapes that had been molded out of clay; the villagers were told to match the shapes that "went together." Most of them "failed" this part of the test, because the researchers' definition of "passing" would be to match up shapes that looked alike, whereas the villagers tried to interpret the shapes as real objects and group them functionally, e.g., they matched spherical objects that looked like fruit to long, thin objects that looked like knives.

      • by pmontra ( 738736 )
        The researchers failed the IQ test. The villagers are more fit than them for their environment so it should be up to them to define what smart is there. Bring them to NYC and the roles are reversed. IMHO smart and dumb are not absolutes.
    • by k.a.f. ( 168896 )
      That is completely true, but beside the point. Yes, there are many different kinds of intelligence, you need different sets of skills to succeed, your competence in one set doesn't predict competence in another set, intelligence isn't one-dimensional, etc. All true. But IQ tests are supposed to test precisely only one of these sets: analytical problem-solving intelligence, and they do exactly that. And they have been doing this and ignoring shelter-building or emotional intelligence from the beginning. And
  • by stoicio ( 710327 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:08AM (#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.

  • IQ tests still used? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I don't know in the US, but in europe nearly no one uses them anymore, they're considered just like puzzles that you can find on a weekly magazine. And it's weird that they are developed by psychologists, who are not exactly the smartest people around. It would be more appropriate if they were developed by physics PhDs or similar.

  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:09AM (#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. []. Meanwhile, a good case for the parasite load hypothesis can be found [].
  • Not so strange (Score:4, Insightful)

    by medv4380 ( 1604309 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:09AM (#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.
  • See "Global Consciousness" [] and Jung's "Collective unconscious" []

    Whether this is some sort of all-extensive world-soul, or just the fact that people are more connected because of technology, we all seem to be moving toward thinking the same.
  • Surely if we really were more intelligent, we'd know the answer to the question "why are IQ scores improving?"
  • by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:11AM (#41776719)

    I wonder what the total IQ of the House Science Committee is?

  • a person who tested as average a century ago would today be declared mentally retarded.

    Note decline in religiosity.

    Also, despite widely held belief to the contrary, civilization might be killing off genetic lines of the stupid, which is good news, at least for /.ers who want to get some.

  • There are a number of variables in play:
    - much better health levels for children
    - no malnutrition (in the West, anyway)
    - universal literacy and childhood education

    Couple that with the fact that IQ tests are necessarily abstract and theoretical, something that matches far closer to our culture and daily lives today, and you've probably explained it.

    A person could be a successful functional adult in the 1930s having dropped out of school at 8th grade. They could run their business, have employees and have a

  • THEORY 1: From parents word of mouth, to church (organized sermons), to printing press, to larger printing presses, to internet. See growth of world literacy [] Literacy allows ideas to travel like invasive species, wiping out stupidity. Some virulent strains of stupidity still survive, and the Youtubization (audio and video) phenomena may make other forms of communication to trump literacy. But for the period of the study, IQ or test taking ability would be expected to increase as literacy increases.

    THEORY 2: As Jesus said to his disciple "Psst, walk on the rocks". If you are using the same test for intelligence, word is going to get around how to pass that test. We don't know what kind of native intelligence is getting lost in "illiterate tribes" as the succeeding generations become literate rather than stick to old ways. Evolution vs. Diversity... The extinction of languages makes it difficult to tell whether the surviving languages are testing for their own genes.

    I'd go with theory 1. But it's possible that IQ tests may just be measuring the rate of growth of a western IQ invasive species which tests it's own strain of DNA. If Whales had fingers and became the dominant species and flooded the land masses, drowning land mammals, they'd measure something different and find a statistical improvement in use of Whale intelligence.

  • by JustAnotherIdiot ( 1980292 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:25AM (#41776863)
    1. Twilight is considered a great book/movie by many.
    2. People like Charlie Sheen and Kim Kardashian are considered celebrities.
    3. People like Mitt Romney are serious contenders to be President of the United States, and people actually think he's a good candidate.
    4. Sports are over glorified and players are often paid millions of dollars, but those teaching our kids to create a brighter tomorrow work for peanuts.
  • I'd remember the name of that law about questions in titles and No as an answer. Nevertheless I'm afraid that we are just getting better at passing those tests we are taught to pass. That might actually be all there is in being smart (optimal fit to the environment) but I'd be surprised that the essence of being smart can be captured by logic tests.
  • Spatial reasoning (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 )

    Men supposedly have better spatial reasoning based on the tests of manipulating blocks or gears in space.

    But this is a culturally relative test.

    Give a female who cooks a blob of leftovers or dough and she can pick the correct container that will hold the container without waste or a lot of air space. Most men can't.

    Give a female a pile of dishes and a dishwasher vs a male with the same dishes and dishwasher and the average female will more effectively load the dishwasher than the male.

    These are both spatia

  • IQ is BS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by P-niiice ( 1703362 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @09:33AM (#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:IQ is BS (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @10:11AM (#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 [] 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 []. Similarly, the Wonderlic test [] 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.

      • I'm sure a 15 to 20 point difference is meaningful within a culture, but I just can't see comparing people of vastly different cultures using IQ tests that I've seen. Perhaps I haven't see the right test questions - but I could totally see how a harmless puzzle about fractions could mean something totally different to someone else who doesn't think like a westerner.

        I'm no expert, just a guy who had an impression about some if the test items I had.
  • The IQ tests are a measure of how well a person can notice differences in patterns and cognitive reasoning.

    I think the reason why the scores have been raising over the years is for the simple fact that people are using those portions of their brain more, by either the higher literacy rate (reading requires pattern recognition to make words from letters) or simply using a computer interface that allows for quicker interactions than possible before modern times.

    But since there is only so much grey matter
  • Abstract reasoning is exactly what IQ is supposed to measure, so that part seems a bit confused. But beyond that, I think if you look more closely what is happening is moreso that the bottom end of the range is coming up (as a result of more widespread basic education) than that the top end is rising (smart people are actually smarter.) This probably has more to do with nutrition and medical care than anything else.
  • by paiute ( 550198 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @10:02AM (#41777373)
    When I read something like this, I think that it is another piece of modern self-congratulation, the kind of thinking that leads to assuming that the ancients were so stupid that aliens must have visited them to help them stack rocks. But then I look at photographs of random groups of people from about 1880-1920 and think that about half of them look like slack-jawed functional morons.
  • Complexity (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Lord Grey ( 463613 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @10:07AM (#41777435)

    "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?"

    I am not a teacher or psychologist, but I have to wonder if at least some of this can be attributed to the things we have to normally deal with on a day-to-day basis. Specifically, in how those "things" have changed over time. As an earlier poster pointed out, life was a whole lot simpler several decades ago. Technology was much simpler and therefore easier to understand. The average person interacted with fewer people, less technology, less variance in their daily routine. Now, in developed countries at least, people are forced to interact with complicated devices and many people who are not actually present (via phone, teleconference, email, whatever).

    People used to be amazed by the telephone, back when it was first invented. Many thought the user was talking to the device, not through it. Understanding that the telephone enabled remote conversation is the type of abstract thinking I'm trying to get it here. Multiply this by the hundreds of devices we're surrounded by and it's no wonder that people think more abstractly than 100 years ago. People have to, in order to deal with all the technology.

  • by MrLizard ( 95131 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @10:33AM (#41777837)

    In an era when access to facts is a click or a tap away, it becomes much more important to be able to know how to use those facts, than to have a mental storehouse of them. Because the scope of human knowledge is orders of magnitude more than any person can grasp, we are forced to rely on the opinions of others in all but our own narrow areas. If I read an article on, say, a potential cure for cancer, I know I lack the scientific knowledge to replicate the research or even build a good mental model of what's supposed to be happening, biologically, except on a very crude level. So to make judgment, I have to engage in pattern-matching, not fact-checking. Does this article contain the kinds of keywords, phrases, and tone that I've come to associate with woo-woo fringe theories, or does it seem in line with things I already know to be factual? Is it presented in a forum which has a reputation for rigor, or is it in a site featuring articles on aromatherapy and aura reading? Does it discuss limited results, provide caveats, and discuss risks, or does it promise instant and universal cures with no drawbacks and talk about how "they" are "terrified" of this discovery?

    This applies in virtually every field of knowledge. We can't judge most things on the facts, because we can't know all the facts. We have to rely more and more on pattern matching and abstraction to reach conclusions. Most of us devote our "locally hosted fact storage" to that data pertinent to our daily lives, our jobs, and our favorite hobbies. A big chunk of what's left goes to meta-information about how to GET facts when we need them, and what's left is devoted to deciding if what someone is presenting as a "fact" is actually true, and to evaluating the value of each fact as it weighs in our opinions.

    (It's a common mistake that if a person disagrees with you, it's because he doesn't know the FACTS! Odds are, he DOES know them, at least if he's anyone worth having a disagreement with. He just *weighs* them differently, because people apply facts as a means towards achieving their values and goals. Only in Jack Chick tracts and the like do people suddenly change their minds because a random stranger spews a series of "things you didn't know!" at them. Hell, even if you can prove beyond doubt that a particular justification for an opinion is objectively wrong, people will retain the opinion and look for new "facts" to support it. (Note how no matter how many times someone debunks a particular myth about Obama, or Creationism, or 9/11, or "free energy", or vaccines, the people who believe in conspiracies never change their beliefs -- they just find some new "proof". "OK, so the original study that linked vaccines to autism was proven to be a complete and utter fraud? So what, there's plenty more "proof", and besides, I don't believe it was a fraud, it was a frame up by the evil corporations!")

  • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @10:35AM (#41777865) Journal
    You see this everywhere. Culture evolves and develops, how is this suprising. ...unfortunately there's always some people that can't understand past history. Even just being exposed to the products of high intelligence, novel applications and combinations helps to restructure thought processes as one is exposed to things that are possible that they could not conceive of on their own. The more available stimuli, the faster the acceleration. One need only view the effects of video cameras and massive amounts of data on sports, whether it be football or MMA.
  • Bred for it ! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by redelm ( 54142 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @10:43AM (#41777991) Homepage

    Why all the denial and knashing of teeth? Accept the Flynn effect as data, most likely the result of a vastly more technological society that requires more intelligence to run & live in. This even works for the one-third of intelligence that is attributable to environmental development. Human are nothing if not adaptable.

    On the two-thirds genetic component of intelligence, it is likely that both women and men are selecting mates with an increased emphasis on intelligence, and decreased importance of other factors like health or strength. Nothing radical (3+sigma still won't get a date) just a central small shift.

    In any case, the upside of intelligence has to pay for the downside (indecision, depression?autism?mental illness). Humans have always had this potential for increased intelligence, but before the upside never paid the downside. Now it increasingly does.

  • by Capt.Albatross ( 1301561 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @11:11AM (#41778443)
    The one example in the article is as follows:

    As Flynn demonstrates, a typical IQ test question on the abstract reasoning “Similarities” subtest might ask “How are dogs and rabbits alike?” While our grandparents were more likely to say something along the lines of “Dogs are used to hunt rabbits,” today we are more likely to say the “correct” answer, “Dogs and rabbits are both mammals.” Our grandparents were more likely to see the world in concrete, utilitarian terms (dogs hunt rabbits), but today we are more likely to think in abstractions (the category of “mammal”).

    This is claimed to be evidence for Flynn's argument that we have shifted to more abstract thinking. A simpler explanation would be that more people today have been taught that dogs and rabbits are both mammals, and are simply recalling that fact, which doesn't call for abstract thinking.

    I do not know if this is a poor example for making Flynn's case, or an indication of its weakness.

  • by Grayhand ( 2610049 ) on Friday October 26, 2012 @11:25AM (#41778649)
    Better nutrition. It's similar to the height change. Look at older homes in England and most have lower ceilings and doors while the wealthy grew much taller because of the better food. Willam Wallace who was a noble, no matter what they said in Braveheart, and was thought to 6' 6" tall. A friend was in Japan during the construction of Tokyo Disnyland and said it was like a sea of heads all the same height. He said by the time they were finished it had changed so much it was like any street in the US. The younger Japanese were eating burgers and fries and other dense foods. Most humans aren't genetically 5' 5" or less. The genetic average seems more like 6' and above even for men. The consumption of foods high in fatty acids especially fish has been shown to affect brain development. A hundred years ago for much of the US such foods would have been rare. The bulk of diet would have been bread and potatoes like most of the UK while in Asia rice would have been the major caloric food source. Historically high protein diets as in meat were found to affect brain development. Neanderthals had a much higher percentage of meat in their diets and some groups exceeded modern man in brain size. That trend may reverse now that we are eating a lot of junk food and fish are becoming more scarce. Also our cattle and other animals are raised on corn diets instead of grasses which reduce the fatty acid content of the meat.

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"