Over the last couple of centuries, there has been the general trend of humans recording higher IQ scores with every passing generation. This is known as the Flynn Effect, named after James Flynn, the researcher who discovered it. James Flynn studied IQ test scores for different populations over the past sixty years, and observed that IQ scores increased from one generation to the next for all the countries for which data existed.
Studies show that IQ gains are different for various populations over time. Countries have observed generational increases in IQ by 5 and 25 points, where the largest gains appear on IQ tests that measure fluid intelligence rather than crystallized intelligence. Fluid intelligence is tested by tests like the Belgian shapes test, the Jenkins test etc. These tests attempt to emphasize problem solving and minimize reliance on specific skills or familiarity with words and symbols. There has been increase of 15 points, or one standard deviation with every generation. With these tests there would be no increase in scores if the increase in score was caused due to education levels. Crystallized intelligence is checked through the help of tests like the Wechsler-Binet and verbal tests which also measure crystallized intelligence in addition to fluid intelligence. Some questions on these tests measure problem solving abilities but others measure learned information such as vocabulary and math skills. The IQ gains for these tests have been more moderate, with an average of about 9 points per generation.
There is no real concrete explanation as to why this is happening however there are possible theories that can explain the effect of higher IQ scores. The first theory is that education quality and levels have increased. In many countries there is now a great awareness about the importance of education. The quality of schools has improved which can have an effect on IQ levels. There is a general confusion between knowledge and ability. IQ tests measure ability of an individual, not the knowledge of the individual so it is possible to be uneducated and have high IQ test scores. Education helps in increasing IQ scores because people end up spending more time learning and being examined in formal educational settings and thus becoming better test takers, consequently resulting in IQ gains.
The second theory regarding the increase in scores is of societal influence on working and completion of assignments within specific deadlines. Human life is very fast paced and there are always new innovations being discovered and implemented to improve life. Because of this, human beings have started to work efficiently and quickly. As a result, populations are able to score better now on timed tests than before. The present generations do not waste time answering every question on a test but rather try to make educated guesses which can result in higher scores. Another reason is improved nutrition. With better food, the brain gets better nourishment and is subsequently bable to perform better in an IQ test as well as everyday activities.
Since there are IQ gains over time, it is of vital importance that IQ tests are constantly restandardized so that subjects are scored against accurate norms. If the IQ test remains stagnant, a lot more people would have IQ scores similar to that of Albert Einstein. Using obsolete IQ norms can cause problems especially when comparing score from different subsets of populations. When IQ scores of elderly are compared with the youth using the same norms, there is bound to be a disparity. IQ scores of elderly would be significantly lower and therefore cannot be compared using the same norms as that of the youth. One reason is that elderly people are more likely to have poor health which could consequently affect brain capacity. IQ scores of children are measured on different norms. Children have developing brains and consequently should be able to pick up abilities quicker thus resulting in better IQ scores.
Lastly, we must remember that since IQ is a measure of ability and not knowledge, scores can easily change if an individual trains himself/herself in that particular ability. For instance, in a study using taxi drivers of New York, it was observed that their visual spatial ability changed and became better after they started driving taxis. This means their visual spatial ability improved and thus they would score better in IQ tests measuring that ability.
Recent trends show that IQ scores do rise generationally, but to ensure that these are accurate, tests must be brought abreast with respect to the progress of recent times.
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