Friday, May 07, 2010 5/7/10 - i.q. tests

In today's excerpt - IQ test results:

"Children develop only as the environment demands development. In 1981, New Zealand-based psychologist James Flynn discovered just how profoundly true that statement is. Comparing raw IQ scores over nearly a century, Flynn saw that they kept going up: every few years, the new batch of IQ test takers seemed to be smarter than the old batch. Twelve-year-olds in the 1980s performed better than twelve-year-olds in the 1970s, who performed better than twelve-year-olds in the 1960s, and so on. This trend wasn't limited to a certain region or culture, and the differences were not trivial. On average, IQ test takers improved over their predecessors by three points every ten years - a staggering difference of eighteen points over two generations.

"The differences were so extreme, they were hard to wrap one's head around. Using a late-twentieth-century average score of 100, the comparative score for the year 1900 was calculated to be about 60 - leading to the truly absurd conclusion, acknowledged Flynn, 'that a majority of our ancestors were mentally retarded.' The so-called Flynn effect raised eyebrows throughout the world of cognitive research. Obviously, the human race had not evolved into a markedly smarter species in less than one hundred years. Something else was going on.

"For Flynn, the pivotal clue came in his discovery that the increases were not uniform across all areas but were concentrated in certain subtests. Contemporary kids did not do any better than their ancestors when it came to general knowledge or mathematics. But in the area of abstract reasoning, reported Flynn, there were 'huge and embarrassing' improvements. The further back in time he looked, the less test takers seemed comfortable with hypotheticals and intuitive problem solving. Why? Because a century ago, in a less complicated world, there was very little familiarity with what we now consider basic abstract concepts. '[The intelligence of] our ancestors in 1900 was anchored in everyday reality,' explains Flynn. 'We differ from them in that we can use abstractions and logic and the hypothetical ... Since 1950, we have become more ingenious in going beyond previously learned rules to solve problems on the spot.'

"Examples of abstract notions that simply didn't exist in the minds of our nineteenth-century ancestors include the theory of natural selection (formulated in 1864), and the concepts of control group (1875) and random sample (1877). A century ago, the scientific method itself was foreign to most Americans. The general public had simply not yet been conditioned to think abstractly.

"The catalyst for the dramatic IQ improvements, in other words, was not some mysterious genetic mutation or magical nutritional supplement but what Flynn described as 'the [cultural] transition from pre-scientific to post-scientific operational thinking.' Over the course of the twentieth century, basic principles of science slowly filtered into public consciousness, transforming the world we live in. That transition, says Flynn, 'represents nothing less than a liberation of the human mind.'

"The scientific world-view, with its vocabulary, taxonomies, and detachment of logic and the hypothetical from concrete referents, has begun to permeate the minds of post-industrial people. This has paved the way for mass education on the university level and the emergence of an intellectual cadre without whom our present civilization would be inconceivable.

"Perhaps the most striking of Flynn's observations is this: 98 percent of IQ test takers today score better than the average test taker in 1900. The implications of this realization are extraordinary. It means that in just one century, improvements in our social discourse and our schools have dramatically raised the measurable intelligence of almost everyone.

"So much for the idea of fixed intelligence."

Author: David Shenk
Title: The Genius in All of Us
Publisher: Doubleday
Date: Copyright 2010 by David Shenk
Pages: 35-37


Blogger eafinct said...

A telling commentary, but not on intelligence; rather on what IQ tests measure. I am sure that by the standards of 1900, most of us would be found sorely lacking in the intelligence and skills necessary to survival and daily living. I am astounded, for example, to find out how many of my friends and neighbors cannot orient themselves -- not just in a strange place, but at their own homes -- to east, west, north, and south. They could not tell you where the sun rises and sets. Our lives are daily becoming more abstract and virtual, but whether this amounts to an increase in intelligence is a point I would dispute.

4:36 AM  
Blogger library said...

"It means that in just one century, improvements in our social discourse and our schools have dramatically raised the measurable intelligence of almost everyone."

Oh yea? How does he account for all the idiots who think the earth is 6000 years old? Or for the more than 50% of Americans who think the devil is real and that heaven exists?

2:45 AM  

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