This generation is smarter than previous generations

Flynn Effect: Are Young Generations Really Smarter?

Is humanity getting smarter and smarter? The New Zealand political scientist James R. Flynn has been dealing with this question for many decades. According to his measurements, the average IQ value of the population in industrialized countries increases steadily from generation to generation. We take a closer look and check what this “Flynn effect” is really all about.

1. The “Flynn Effect”: Same IQ test, younger generation, better results
2. Possible explanation # 1: Changed worldview
3. Possible explanation # 2: The IQ tests are inadequate
4. Possible explanation # 3: Knowledge society
5. Possible explanation # 4: Physical changes in the brain
6. Conclusion: Society is not necessarily getting smarter, just "different"

The “Flynn Effect”: Same IQ test, younger generation, better results

Because of "age wisdom"? The Flynn effect describes the observation of the eponymous James R. Flynn that the younger generations seem to be getting smarter. At least they do better on average in the same IQ tests, in contrast to their parent and grandparent generations. The current average of the intelligence quotient is, according to the definition, 100 points. In comparison, 100 years ago it would be around 50 to 70 points.

James R. Flynn calculated in the course of his research an increase of about three points per decade. But were people really that much “dumber” 50 or 100 years ago than today's generations? Numerous experts dare to doubt this and instead give other explanations for the Flynn effect - as already indicated in the video.

Possible explanation # 1: Changed worldview

Even the discoverer of the phenomenon does not assume that mankind will all in all really become “more intelligent”. Instead, he provides another possible explanation for the Flynn Effect: our great-grandparent and grandparent generations had a more workable worldview, while younger generations try to grasp the modern world on an intellectual level.

"Generations speak differently and act the same."
(Carl Ludwig von Haller)

Among other things, this results from the fact that the world is becoming more and more complex, for example due to the new media or globalization. A simple example of this is given in the video: When asked "Describe the relationship between a dog and a rabbit" you would

  1. earlier generations probably answer that the dog chases the rabbit.
  2. today's generations, however, answer that both are mammals.

So nowadays questioning complex relationships. The younger generations grow up with the habit of wanting to understand their environment on an intellectual as well as an abstract level. Her grandparents and great-grandparents, on the other hand, just took things for granted and didn't think about them any further. Why also? After all, in times of the First or Second World War they had other, more pressing concerns. They were by no means dumber!

Possible explanation # 2: Insufficient informative value of the IQ tests

Instead, experts suggest that the "new" way of thinking simply corresponds more closely to the skills tested in IQ tests and therefore achieves better results. The explanation why younger generations seem to be getting smarter and smarter could be based on the measurement method itself. How the intelligence test and the associated intelligence quotient were created is explained briefly in the following video.

The tasks for the intelligence test were chosen arbitrarily and are only intended to serve as a comparison with a group of people of the same age. So your IQ tells you whether you are equally intelligent (= 100 points), "dumber" (100 points) than the average population of the same age. However, what exactly is measured with this intelligence test, e.g. fluid or crystalline intelligence, deductive or inductive thinking, etc., has not yet been clearly defined.

Reading tip: "Crystalline intelligence: age wisdom can be trained!"

What this increasing IQ values ​​from generation to generation have to testify is just as unclear. Presumably - as already mentioned in the first possible explanation - simply that our way of thinking is changing, but not our intelligence itself. In general, science has a hard time with a clear definition of "intelligence":

Possible explanation # 3: Knowledge society

Another possible explanation for the Flynn effect lies in the development of a modern, post-industrial knowledge society. Since the end of the Cold War, sociologists have seen an increased pursuit of information. Driven by bad experiences in the past, which were also related to insufficient education, as well as technological progress, modern society has developed a great thirst for knowledge. Intelligence is therefore becoming more and more important, both in professional and personal life. Those who want to advance socially and have a career have to be “intelligent” these days. However, this does not necessarily mean the IQ.

With the increasing importance of intelligence in all its manifestations go at the same time better education and promotion hand in hand - at a young age. As a result, the children already have better starting conditions than their parents or grandparents back then at the same age. There are also changes in the brain.

Possible explanation # 4: Physical changes in the brain

Researchers were able to find out that both the new media and the better health of the younger generations lead to changes in the brain. The mass media allow other areas of the brain to grow that a few decades or a century ago were completely "unimportant" and therefore rather stunted. At the same time, areas are "shrinking" which are now only rarely used. After all, hardly anyone works hard physically in a wheat field.

“Don't think we old people would already know everything!
You can learn a lot from the boys. "
(Dieter Gropp)

The better physical constitution through a more balanced diet and improved health care also has a direct effect on the brain by delaying the breakdown of synaptic plasticity. You can find out what this term means in our article on fluid intelligence. So nowadays people remain significantly fitter not only physically but also mentally into old age than they did 50 or 100 years ago.

Conclusion: Society is not necessarily getting smarter, just "different"

The real reason the average IQ of today's generations is significantly higher than it was 100 years ago is probably somewhere in the middle. Each of the developments mentioned brings changes for modern society, which also affect the intelligence quotient. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that young generations are “smarter” than older ones - especially since there is still no uniform definition for intelligence.

Instead, people seem to be adopting a new way of thinking that simply “better” fits the intelligence test. Current studies also show that the Flynn effect is currently stagnating, possibly even declining. We still have to wait for the final test results in this regard. Who knows - maybe this is the end of the Flynn Effect. And then the question arises again: Why?

What do you think? Are younger generations really “smarter” than those 50 or 100 years ago? And if so, what could be the reason? Or why do you reject this thesis? What possible reasons can you think of why the Flynn Effect is currently appearing to be ending? We look forward to more exciting approaches to the topic and your very personal opinion in the comments!

Photo credit: MillaF / Shutterstock.com

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