From the algorithms that power our social media accounts to the sleep tracking technology of our smartwatches, the world has never seemed so advanced and technologically developed. That is why it would be easy to assume that in each generation, humans are getting smarter. But is this the case?
This is a question that many scientists have asked themselves, especially since throughout the 20th century, the average score on IQ tests in the world has grown considerably – in particular in the West.
This increase was about three IQ points per decade, which means we technically live with more geniuses on the planet than ever before.
This increase in IQ scores and the apparent tendency of intelligence levels to increase over time is known as Flynn effect (named after the late American born educator James Flynn). And improved health and nutrition, better education and working conditions, and recent access to technology have all contributed.
Indeed, in the 19th century, for example, industrialization created large, overcrowded cities with poor health and premature death. But improvements in housing, health and parenthood, as well as better access to free education and the gradual progression from manual jobs to more intellectually demanding jobs, have led many to live longer. longer and healthier.
Research even suggests that there is something called a “IQ-mortality gradient“where the smartest people often live longer.
Research in countries that have not experienced post-industrial development also supports the idea that improving access to education, housing and nutrition are the main factors that have led to IQ increases. A study of sub-Saharan African countries, for example, found that the Flynn effect has not yet established itself there.
Or in other words, IQ test scores have not increased massively because living conditions have not improved significantly for a large number of people.
But that’s not the whole story, because over the years Last 30 years there have been some reports decline in IQ test performance in some countries. So is it fair to assume that humans in the West have reached the pinnacle of intelligence?
Intelligence quotient, or IQ tests, is a measure of reasoning and the ability to quickly use information and logic. Tests assess short and long-term memory using puzzles and test a person’s ability to remember information.
While IQ test scores have been rising for some time, research suggesting a “reverse Flynn effect” indicates that this uptrend may now be slowing. A Norwegian study, for example, found that males born before 1975 exhibited the expected positive “Flynn effect” of a three-point gain for each successive decade.
But for those born after 1975, there was a steady decline in IQ. This is equivalent to a seven points difference between generations – the average IQ has fallen by about 0.2 points per year. Other studies carried out between 2005 and 2013 in the United Kingdom, Sweden and France also showed similar results.
These results are difficult to explain, but it has been suggested that it may be linked to changes in the way children are taught in school.
It is an era that saw major changes from reading serious literature and rote learning – a memorization technique based on repetition – to a more collective approach to solving scientific problems, which is now. taught to most western children.
These “student-centered” teaching methods are now combined with interpersonal skills and teamwork, as well as encouragement for students to understand the emotional perceptions of others.
The overall impact of this approach could encourage smarter and more efficient work, but places less emphasis on the individual skills required in the workplace. IQ tests. So maybe in that sense we’re not so good at doing IQ tests anymore.
“Bias and unfair”
Another consideration is that over the past 50 years, questions about the appropriateness of IQ tests have arisen – described in some circles as biased, unfair and inappropriate. Indeed, the use of IQ tests for job and school selection has declined.
It is therefore likely that this decrease in use, coupled with a reduction in supervision for such tests, led to poorer performance when using IQ tests.
So in answer to the question, are humans getting smarter – it’s hard to say. But what is certain is that lower IQ scores aren’t necessarily a sign that humans are less intelligent now, but rather that people are scoring lower on IQ tests.
And, in this sense, the potential reasons for a decline in IQ must be seen in a context where the dominant view of IQ testing has changed.
It is also important to think what IQ tests actually measure – and what they don’t – as well as what we mean when we talk about intelligence. IQ tests, for example, are not good at measuring things like personality, creativity, or emotional and social intelligence – or even wisdom.
These are attributes that many of us can appreciate in addition to a high IQ test result.