Are We More Intelligent Than Our Grandparents?

We are going through a profound change in the way we think, called the cognitive revolution. Over the last hundred years our lives have become ever more dominated by the need to think in abstract terms and categorize objects scientifically. The doubling and quadrupling of knowledge, or at least data, every six months could be demanding us to learn quickly in order to stay relevant.

This is also evident in human advancements: what we have achieved is built on top of what's been done or discovered by generations before us. Therefore the intelligence we talk about, is on the very fabric of our predecessors.

Research done here is based on the Flynn Effect by Prof James Flynn, a very interesting subject to Google.

Despite the widely held historic view that Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests measure only inborn, immutable and innate ability, research has proven that there has in fact been a steady rise in IQ scores across generations that cannot be explained genetically. In other words, IQ is not only the potential a person is born with, but an indication of a person's developed "intelligence" by the time he is evaluated, after being exposed to the influences of his first years of life.

If you score the IQ of people of about a century ago with our current IQ tests, they would have an average of 70, and people of today have an average of 100.

Now no longer an observation but accepted as fact after much subsequent research, the Flynn Effect is the substantial and long-sustained increase in IQ test scores measured in many countries (especially the first world) from roughly 1930 to the present.

A question of paramount importance, is whether this increase in intelligence, is it philosophical, psychological, theological, political, scientific or purely academic?

While you deliberate on the thought, a disturbing observation is when someone you think is dumber and more stupid than you is succeeding in various aspects of life more than you. As humorous this fact might be, it is an indication that high IQ can help, but does not guarantee success across all facets of life, not even financial.

Let's look at professions of the 19th and 20th centuries, they were manual, and mostly industrial, they required a greater proportion of physical involvement. The 21th century has taken a turn, as we live in a knowledge worker age, things are automated, technologically driven, requiring mostly knowledge, the ability to work with numbers, the use of our brains. Most highly paid people are in cognitively demanding professions.

Take generations before us, they were not likely to debate on hypothetical bases, they were fixed in their ideologies, yes, with an exception of others who managed to see beyond the current and past. One of the things that makes our children smarter is that they learn much more early in life. Us modern parents, mothers and fathers, read earlier to our children, play games with them to develop their thinking, send them to good nursery schools, give them iPads and so on, that they can end up with ability of analytical and hypothetical thinking.

The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC), one of the most widely used IQ tests, comprises ten subtests, each of which measures a different aspect of "intelligence". The WISC was originally developed in 1949, and updated over years, in 1974, 1991 and 2003 as the WISC IV to keep the average on 100.

Malcom Gladwell mentioned something interesting, "The notion that anyone 'has' an IQ of a certain number, then, is meaningless unless you know which WISC he took, and when he took it, since there is a substantial difference between getting a 130 on the WISC IV and getting a 130 on the much easier WISC."

In actual fact, what IQ test measure, is not intelligence as such, but our inborn potential, adapted by our early environments. It is nature as much as nurture.

Why, why are we increasing in intelligence, since it cannot be attributed to genes? Some of the reasons: modern day children attend pre-school for longer - parents, especially fathers are much more involved with their babies and toddlers, reading, talking, and playing with them. Families are smaller, children get more individual attention a lot earlier when their brains are learning easier - and of course there is increased exposure to various types of media.

As it relates to early childhood development, interventions prove that education at an early age gives children the edge they need in our day to be highly competent and obtain higher IQ and learn easier at school. Methods like Abecedarian and BrainBoosters can play a major role in this regard for parents to know how to develop the potential their children are born with.

In closing, what do we say in light of the above, are we saying that our ancestors were dumber than us, or are we smarter than them? We need to note the fundamental reason for the difference is that our great grandparents learned how to manipulate the world practically, but we are learning earlier and better how to classify and manipulate it intellectually. Maybe there is a lot more potential humans are born with. If we can just learn to better unlock and improve that potential in our children in turn they will know to do even better with our grandchildren!