Are people getting smarter with the passage of time?

Observe the behavior of buyers standing in a long queue in the supermarket, or drivers stuck in a traffic jam, and you very quickly become disillusioned with humanity and its collective IQ . Various reality shows and sites like People of Walmart only strengthen this belief. Even in many songs, both popular and experimental, you can hear the phrase "only stupid people multiply / only stupid people become more." Apparently, this can be attributed to many of us.

And yet today we are better at using technology than in the past. Never before have we been so productive, educated and technologically savvy than now. In high school, I had a teacher who told me that at the time when Einstein was working on the theory of relativity, only a few people were clever enough to understand its essence. But only a generation later, each student passed the theory of relativity in high school and understood it well, at least enough to pass the exam.

So, our opinions constantly diverge on the question of whether humanity as a whole is becoming more intelligent over time or not . Of course, solving this problem from the perspective of personal experience alone will be short-sighted and limited. Therefore, we turn to scientific research to understand what is actually happening.

First, the term intellect itself has a debatable character. For example, Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner puts forward the concept of multiple intelligence, which for many years serves as the basis for education.

  • Gardner considers the following types of intelligence:
  • verbal,
  • logic-mathematical,
  • visual-spatial,
  • body-kinetic,
  • musical,
  • interpersonal (understanding and interaction with other people),
  • intrapersonal (understanding of one's own thoughts, feelings, convictions),
  • naturalistic (finding a common language with nature),
  • Existential (understanding of deeper life issues).

For a long time, the vocabulary served as a measure for the intellectual abilities of man. The study showed that it strongly correlates with IQ. In this case, according to the 2006 study, the vocabulary of the average American is rapidly declining since its peak in the 1940s. However, controversies are taking place on this issue, as the results of vocabulary tests differ in different cultures.

If you look at IQ as the most important intellectual criterion, you can see that it grows throughout the world over time. But it still does not say anything.

In fact, there is an interesting trend. IQ rates are increasing in developing countries, while in developed countries, on the contrary, they may fall.

In 2015, during a study at the Royal College of London and published in the journal Intelligence, psychologists sought to find out the state of the world's IQ. They have been working on research for more than six decades. In total they collected IQ-indicators of 200 000 people from 48 different countries. The researchers found that since 1950, the overall IQ rose by 20 points .

In India and China, the greatest growth was observed. And in general, growth was seen in developing countries due to the improvement of the educational system and the health care system. This phenomenon is known as the Flynn effect, in honor of the political scientist James Flynn. In 1982, he predicted that improving living conditions would increase the collective index of human IQ . A number of studies confirm the Flynn effect.

According to a study by the Royal College of London, there is a rapid increase in IQ in developing countries, while in the US and other developed countries, growth rates, on the contrary, are slowing. So one day many developing countries will be able to catch up with developed ones.

In addition, the human brain continues to develop toward more abstract thinking . Flynn refers to a study that is devoted to studying the thinking of Russian peasants. The researchers asked them: "Polar bears live where snow always lies. The territory of the New Earth is always covered with snow. What color are the bears there? "The majority of the villagers answered that since they were never in those regions, they do not know about it, or that they saw only black bears.

Another example. If you asked someone in the XIX century what unites a rabbit and a dog, then they would hardly say about their belonging to a group of mammals or warm-blooded. Instead, they could say: "These animals are both fluffy" or "They are both used by people." In this example, people rely more on their experience in the real world than on abstract, logical or "scientific" reasoning. According to Flynn, this change in our abilities illustrates "nothing more than the liberation of the human mind."

Flynn wrote:

"Scientific worldview, with all its terminology, taxonomy, separation of logic and hypotheses from specific objects, began to penetrate into the minds of people in a postindustrial society. It prepared the ground for mass education at the university level and the emergence of intellectual workers, without which our present civilization would be unthinkable. "

Will we ever achieve a certain maximum in terms of a person's intellectual abilities? Will the changes in the environment affect our brain or mental landscape? And what about the monumental changes that may be caused by the second industrial revolution, approaching the wave of robotics and artificial intelligence? Not yet known.

And finally I want to say about the elderly people who usually complain about the fact that young people lack common sense. When something is given from birth or acquired with the course of life, something else as a result is often lost.

Perhaps, as our thinking becomes more abstract, we tend to lose the practical aspects of our abilities . Despite this, as each new generation becomes more and more unlike the previous one, their improved abilities help them to change the world unimaginably for us, sophisticated and delicious.


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