Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times reports on the latest work of James R. Flynn of the University of Otago, New Zealand, who has been tracking I.Q. scores over the past century. His findings, or “The ‘Flynn effect,’” reveal that I.Q. test scores have significantly increased from one generation to the next over the past century.
“The average American I.Q. has been rising steadily by 3 points a decade. Spaniards gained 19 points over 28 years, and the Dutch 20 points over 30 years. Kenyan children gained nearly 1 point a year,” Kristof quotes from the book, Are We Getting Smarter? Overall, the nation with the highest average I.Q. is Singapore, at 108.
What’s the reason for increased intelligence — are humans’ brains suddenly evolving larger? Could be — Flynn makes the point that growing up and living in industrialized societies provides brains “a constant mental workout that builds up what we might call our brain sinews.” He cites a 2000 study that found that experienced London taxi drivers have “enlarged hippocampi, which is the brain area used for navigating three-dimensional space.”
Access to electronic stimuli — in the form of television and computers and video games — may also be building up our brain muscles, Flynn argues. Another interesting revelation: “the removal of lead from gasoline may have added six points to American children’s I.Q.s.” There was no mention — but there should be — of recent generations of teachers who have helped expand the thinking of millions upon millions of students in recent decades.
If you think about it, the fact that most people in the street now carry around computers in their pockets and understand search and social networking, and know the difference between hardware and software, would have been unimaginable less than three decades ago. Even the most air-headed celebrities understand the power of Twitter. The technology-in-our-lives angle is not necessarily a reflection of I.Q., of course, but a statement about the increasing sophistication people have in understanding and working with technology. And, ultimately, that’s has to help the world get smarter.