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Are We Getting Smarter? Rising IQ Scores In the Twenty-First Century

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the we-sure-think-we-are dept.

Science 421

hessian sends this excerpt from The New Republic: "[A] person who scored 100 a century ago would score 70 today; a person who tested as average a century ago would today be declared mentally retarded. This bizarre finding — christened the 'Flynn effect' by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray in The Bell Curve — has since snowballed so much supporting evidence that in 2007 Malcolm Gladwell declared in The New Yorker that 'the Flynn effect has moved from theory to fact.' But researchers still cannot agree on why scores are going up. Are we are simply getting better at taking tests? Are the tests themselves a poor measure of intelligence? Or do rising IQ scores really mean we are getting smarter? In spite of his new book's title, Flynn does not suggest a simple yes or no to this last question. It turns out that the greatest gains have taken place in subtests that measure abstract reasoning and pattern recognition, while subtests that depend more on previous knowledge show the lowest score increases. This imbalance may not reflect an increase in general intelligence, Flynn argues, but a shift in particular habits of mind. The question is not, why are we getting smarter, but the much less catchy, why are we getting better at abstract reasoning and little else?"

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Simple... (5, Interesting)

wbr1 (2538558) | about 2 years ago | (#41776431)

I have to abstract myself away from shit like Jersey Shore, Real Housewives, Survivor, Jaywalking, etc. The things I hear pass for intelligent conversation now scare and enrage me. I for one do not believe American's at least are getting any smarter.

Re:Simple... (5, Insightful)

MRe_nl (306212) | about 2 years ago | (#41776501)

I think everybody is born dumb. you're either kept dumb or raised in a way that makes you intelligent.

Re:Simple... (4, Interesting)

Ironhandx (1762146) | about 2 years ago | (#41776879)

This is only true to an extent. There is a very strong relationship between your genetics and your intelligence however.

For example a kid born from parents with IQ's below 90 is adopted and raised by smart parents(say 140+) He's almost certainly going to be smarter than his biological parents. He is also almost certainly never going to be as smart as his adopted parents.

I see this causing problems in adopted kids households all the time. Parents are smart, parents waited too long to have kids, adopted baby from trailer trash that were too dumb to not procreate. Kid gets into his teens, school gets harder, parents can't understand why the kid is having so much trouble with stuff they breezed through, and neither can the kid because he doesn't know he's adopted(which just adds more frustration), and it causes a whole lot of tension.

Re:Simple... (5, Interesting)

dmbasso (1052166) | about 2 years ago | (#41777157)

You are jumping to the conclusion that it is genetic related, when the anecdote you brought ("adopted baby from trailer trash") is most probably better explained by the consequences of development while in the womb. Or do you think a baby (whatever the genetic code) can develop normally within a system flooded with cortisol, alcohol, nicotine, etc.?

Re:Simple... (1, Insightful)

daem0n1x (748565) | about 2 years ago | (#41777173)

Care to back you allegations with some data? I call bullshit.

Re:Simple... (1)

r1348 (2567295) | about 2 years ago | (#41777287)

Where are your facts?
I remind you that the plot of Idiocracy does not constitute fact.

Re:Simple... (2)

Dupple (1016592) | about 2 years ago | (#41776529)

Similar here. I hardly ever watch TV now apart from documentaries and the BBC news. Popular entertainment seems to consist of shows where a crowd is encouraged to yell and scream at talentless twats or Soap Operas that aim to entertain people with no lives by distracting them with a fictional one.

Watch, rinse, repeat.

Re:Simple... (3, Interesting)

Paul Jakma (2677) | about 2 years ago | (#41776831)

BBC News is pretty simplistic too. It's good for getting a broad overview, but if there's any story you're interested in you'll almost certainly have to go somewhere else if you want to get actual detail. Channel 4 news are better at detail, but sometimes prone to over editorialising.

Re:Simple... (1)

Dupple (1016592) | about 2 years ago | (#41777103)

I tend to agree, I see the news as a feeder to documentaries or web searches. It the editorialising on C4 I don't like, but the reporting is top notch.

Re:Simple... (5, Insightful)

rich_hudds (1360617) | about 2 years ago | (#41776569)

Can't speak for Americans as I'm English but we are certainly not getting smarter.

Why would we be getting smarter anyway? It's pretty obvious from reading old Greek or Roman texts that people are pretty much the same now as they've always been. Shakespeare shows that nothing much has changed in England for over 400 years.

I thought the common explanation was that people are more used to thinking 'abstractly' in Western cultures. That's why people from outside the West still score more lowly even today.

Re:Simple... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41776859)

> Why would we be getting smarter anyway? It's pretty obvious from reading old Greek or Roman texts that people are pretty much the same now as they've always been. Shakespeare shows that nothing much has changed in England for over 400 years.

There's a selection bias there. We don't often hear from the idiots from ages past, or at least with unbiased weighting.

Re:Simple... (4, Interesting)

ToadProphet (1148333) | about 2 years ago | (#41776901)

Your examples use the very brightest of those civilizations and doesn't necessarily disagree with TFA. It's entirely plausible that the brightest of today may not be any more intelligent then the brightest from centuries ago, but that average intelligence has risen due to access to information, public education, etc.

Re:Simple... (1)

rich_hudds (1360617) | about 2 years ago | (#41777215)

I wasn't necessarily talking about the people who wrote the texts, I was talking about the content of those texts that make it clear that people haven't changed much.

I mean read the Bible and although the characters in it are unsurprisingly ignorant, they don't sound less intelligent.

Anyway the point about the Flynn effect is that it applies across the scale so the brightest people in the past would have scored more lowly even though they clearly were as intelligent as the brightest people around today. It would seem odd therefore to use the same effect to argue that the rest of the poeple have got more intelligent.

I don't really buy the idea that our education system is any better than what people had in the past anyway. Better classroom discipline and a greater incentive to study probably meant that schools were actually better in the past.

Even where there were no schools people still mostly learnt to read and write. Literacy rates have not changed much in the last 100 years in England.

Re:Simple... (4, Insightful)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | about 2 years ago | (#41776907)

Shakespeare couldn't spell his own name, and his handwriting was atrocious.

Only the best (according to the church) Greek and Latin texts survived. Of course they seem smart to us. The musings of the sub-literate didn't survive. Except for the graffiti on the walls of the bath houses in Pompeii, we don't know much about the low brow Roman.

This is like looking at the mansions in the old part of town and saying, "They sure knew how to build things in those days". Only the most well built house survived so it looks like there was more craftmenship 100 years ago.

Re:Simple... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41776909)

Can't speak for Americans as I'm English but we are certainly not getting smarter.

Why would we be getting smarter anyway? It's pretty obvious from reading old Greek or Roman texts that people are pretty much the same now as they've always been. Shakespeare shows that nothing much has changed in England for over 400 years.

I thought the common explanation was that people are more used to thinking 'abstractly' in Western cultures. That's why people from outside the West still score more lowly even today.

We, as a species, are only just walking up to the starting line of high level abstract thought.

Re:Simple... (4, Insightful)

alen (225700) | about 2 years ago | (#41776809)

those shows aren't any worse than the dumb sitcoms i used to watch in the 80's

Family Ties, Different Strokes, One Day at a Time and lots of others. Friends was the peak of dumb sitcom and that's considered art now

kids watch shows their parents think are dumb
kids grow up and these shows become art because the people making the decisions on what art is used to consume that media
the kids' kids watch new shows that the grown ups think are dumb
repeat every generation

same with music. my mother swore Ozzy and metal was a passing fad. and all the crap i used to listen to as a kid is now considered art

Re:Simple... (2)

jellomizer (103300) | about 2 years ago | (#41776885)

There is a new line of thought. If people practice something for 10,000 hours they become an expert. Now people with higher IQ, may be able to practice harder things to be an expert. But the IQ test isn't a test in how smart you are, but your possible mental potential. I do not have the highest IQ, I am well above average but not off the charts type. I have worked with people with off the charts IQ. They use the fact that they were told that they were super smart as a reason to not work hard, thus they grew up as a slacker, underperforming in many areas where people with normal IQ are exceeding them.

Now if you have a really high IQ, and you work really hard to exercise your mind, then you will be a real asset to society. Just having the Hi-IQ and sliding just because you have a High IQ means you are not practicing your skills to actually get good at anything.

Re:Simple... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41777077)

I am not sure if being told you are really smart makes you a slacker, although probably happens in some cases. I think what might be more common in my experience is that after years in schools and other activities where a little intelligence can greatly reduce the amount of effort and work it takes to get things done, you form a habit of doing things at the last minute and half-assed. The problems with this can be seen as early as middle or high school, or not until after one has finished university studies depending on what they've been exposed to. At some point though there is a level of material and activities, that while being smart helps, it doesn't turn it into some trivial task and takes planning, organization and effort regardless.

I definitely saw a splitting of the smart people at the beginning of university. A large chunk of the smart kids hit a wall when they realized they didn't know how to study haven't studied before. A small slice was still smart enough to get by without much effort, for better or worse. Another small segment could have fallen into the latter category, but realized they should put effort into things and make good use of their time and options.

Re:Simple... (5, Interesting)

crazyjj (2598719) | about 2 years ago | (#41776949)

shit like Jersey Shore, Real Housewives, Survivor, Jaywalking, etc.

Conversely, compare modern dramas and comedies with their counterparts from 30-40 years ago. Even the network stuff has gotten a LOT more sophisticated, with complex plotlines and subplots spanning across multiple seasons that regularly employ devices like symbolism and metaphor, creative mixes of genres, etc. Now go back and look at the old stuff and realize that it wasn't that long ago that it was considered that all prime-time television should consist entirely of self-contained episodes with simple plots (even subplots were once avoided) that beat you over the head with every point. Seriously, just compare the original Star Trek sometime with something like new Battlestar Galactica for a check on how far pop culture has really come in the last 40 years. Sure, 90% of everything is still shit (and always will be). But, overall, our popular entertainment today is WAY more intelligent than it was just a few decades ago. Even our lamest sitcoms are more intelligent today than anything you would have encountered in the disco era. Even M.A.S.H. seems anachronistically silly by today's standards.

Re:Simple... (4, Insightful)

Baloroth (2370816) | about 2 years ago | (#41776961)

Jersey shore peaks at less than 10 million watchers. Which sounds like a lot, until you realize that the US has ~300 million people, so it's ~3%. Even if you assume ten such shows watched by unique individuals, that'd be 100 million (less than, but still close enough), or 1/3 of the population. Considering that 1/2 of the populace has lower than (or equal to) 100 IQ, by definition, it isn't shocking that such shows are mildly popular.

And they had entertainment that bad 50-100 years ago as well. You just don't know about it, because crap like that tends not to be recorded and watched 100 years later.

Re:Simple... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41777235)

I for one do not believe American's at least are getting any smarter.

"American's"? You picked the wrong story (on which) to make an elementary grammar mistake. And you're missing a bunch of punctuation.

Re:Simple... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41777315)

Jersey Shore, Real Housewives, Survivor, Jaywalking, etc.

Speaking of shit, whatever happened to The Turd Report?

Free Cashback? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41776481)

"Would you like to get free cashback in more than 5000 big brands? You can do that with Spinglo, its also implement a plugin for your browser so you dont have to remember to login everytime. Sign up here, [] "

Re:Free Cashback? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41776665)

People who modded this guy -1 don't understand: what he posted is actually a very subtle IQ test.

I would guess "literacy" (5, Interesting)

SirGarlon (845873) | about 2 years ago | (#41776505)

Most IQ tests are in written form, so they can only be administered to children and adults old enough to read. So, only people who've been exposed to at least kindergarten plus (for a lot of people) preschool.

I am not a teacher, but I would venture to say that a whole buckload of evidence-based developmental psychology has gone into improving the educational system since 1912. Plus, things like school enrollment have gone way up. In 1912 a lot of rural kids -- and most people lived in the country -- went to one-room schoolhouses.

So I would think that IQ scores should go up in the competency areas schools have been trying to cultivate. And I would say, thinking about how different the education system probably is today, I'd be more surprised if nothing had changed.

Re:I would guess "literacy" (4, Interesting)

jittles (1613415) | about 2 years ago | (#41776643)

Most IQ tests are in written form, so they can only be administered to children and adults old enough to read. So, only people who've been exposed to at least kindergarten plus (for a lot of people) preschool.

I am not a teacher, but I would venture to say that a whole buckload of evidence-based developmental psychology has gone into improving the educational system since 1912. Plus, things like school enrollment have gone way up. In 1912 a lot of rural kids -- and most people lived in the country -- went to one-room schoolhouses.

So I would think that IQ scores should go up in the competency areas schools have been trying to cultivate. And I would say, thinking about how different the education system probably is today, I'd be more surprised if nothing had changed.

They do have non-written IQ tests that they give in certain circumstances. My school had me take an IQ test in 4th grade. They thought I cheated on it and made me take it again. The second time I was being monitored by someone from the school district. The second test they gave me was not written at all. They gave me physical puzzles and had me solve different challenges and measured the time it took me to solve each puzzle. I don't know how accurate the written test is compared to the physical test, but I am sure it is much more expensive to administer the second test over the first.

Re:I would guess "literacy" (1, Troll)

jellomizer (103300) | about 2 years ago | (#41776865)

You like to gloat don't you?

Re:I would guess "literacy" (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about 2 years ago | (#41776827)

My guess would be social stability and conditions. Even a poor person today in the US has access to resources and time saving devices that a wealthy person a hundred years ago could only dream of. As people have more time to spend on improving themselves and being able to focus on their education, that's what they do. Also access to information has increased considerably, travel may broaden the mind but there's a lot of information readily available on the TV and the internet.

Re:I would guess "literacy" (1)

gmuslera (3436) | about 2 years ago | (#41776967)

Maybe more than literacy the key is culture. This culture. And it includes a lot of implicit/explicit things that are similar to those iq tests (i.e. pattern matching games).

Anyway, you can't measure people from different cultures (and yes, even in the same country and city, today's culture is different from the one 20 years ago) with the same ruler.

Re:I would guess "literacy" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41777181)

Not true: Ravens Progressive Matrices for children can be administered beginning age 5. (non verbal)

Re:I would guess "literacy" (2)

alexander_686 (957440) | about 2 years ago | (#41777183)

There are IQ tests that are geared towards 2 year olds.
Oddly, what you mentioned are not the big factors. IQ is set early in life – say before 5. What matters is improved:
        Prenatal health. More folic acid, less drinking by mom.
        Better environments: Less lead in the paint, more calories to eat - even empty.
        Better early childhood education. See Planet Money for a good story. []

i.e. the big gains are not coming from boosting the top 20% - It is doing a lot of small things. IIRC the removal of lead paint and gas is responsible for a 1 to 2 point increase in IQ in America over the past 40 years. Young children no longer get high fevers that cook their brain, eliminating a who vector for mental retardation. Etc.

Also (1)

sycodon (149926) | about 2 years ago | (#41777371)

They've been dumbing down all the other tests, so why not his one?

IQ tests are getting dumbed down... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41776513)

Oblig quote from the movie "Idocracy":

IQ testing computer: "If you have one bucket that contains 2 gallons and another bucket that contains 7 gallons, how many buckets do you have?"

Re:IQ tests are getting dumbed down... (1)

boneglorious (718907) | about 2 years ago | (#41776721)

Well, seeing as how Idiocracy is fiction, I really don't see that as good evidence of anything. And even if IQ tests are really being dumbed down now --- which I doubt --- I doubt it was occurring already in 1951, when the short story on which Idiocracy was based was written.

Re:IQ tests are getting dumbed down... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41776881)

Oblig quote from the movie "Idocracy":

IQ testing computer: "If you have one bucket that contains 2 gallons and another bucket that contains 7 gallons, how many buckets do you have?"

Of course the correct answer to this question is: "At least two." That's because nowhere it was stated that those are the only buckets you have.

Our World (3, Interesting)

Murdoch5 (1563847) | about 2 years ago | (#41776549)

100 years ago your day included throwing on overalls and going farming. Everything was X, Y, Z, you could write it down, follow it and have it work. Even the early industrial movement showed thinking that followed X, Y, Z. As humanity has progressed and started to apply philosophical ideals to tasks we have developed systems where a job that was once X, Y, Z is now a complex equation of variable introduction. Fundamentally everything has seen this shift, from farming up to global commerce. So why have the IQ score gone up, well I would say it's probably because of the mental level of application required to grasp the basic ideas.

the obvious cause (5, Interesting)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 2 years ago | (#41776557)

If you practice at something for years, you get better at it. I played video games for a lot of years and now I'm a puzzle-solving genius by 100 years ago standards. It's all because of video games.

Re:the obvious cause (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41777043)

I agree. this could account for some of the abstract reasoning skills. especially since video games use those skills far more than knowledge based skills like math, and therefore would develop those abstract skills.

YouTube comments (4, Funny)

ewg (158266) | about 2 years ago | (#41776563)

I know I'm personally getting smarter: recently stopped reading YouTube comments!

Re:YouTube comments (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41776659)

but you're posting on slashdot...

Betteridge (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41776573)

A cursory glance at the people in your local Walmart says:


More brain exercise at a young age. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41776575)

I always figured it was because we're exposed to much more complex mental stimulation (brain exercise) at younger ages.

An alternative suggestion (3, Insightful)

madprof (4723) | about 2 years ago | (#41776577)

IQ test are not worth a lot. The summarising of "intelligence" into a single figure is hopelessly blunt.
Nice to see Pioneer Fund grant recipients Murray and Herrnstein getting a mention. Or are we supposed to forget the racist subtext of The Bell Curve?

Not so sure.... (-1, Offtopic)

jkrise (535370) | about 2 years ago | (#41776583)

Millions of people are buying Apple products...

Billions of devices still run a proprietary locked-down operating system.

Conclusive clincher: Florian Mueller is an expert on patents, and reputed journalists are still quoting him.

because we teach it now (4, Insightful)

Shavano (2541114) | about 2 years ago | (#41776587)

Abstract reasoning used to be the almost exclusive province of mathematicians and philosophers. Now we teach it in schools.

Re:because we teach it now (5, Insightful)

gr8_phk (621180) | about 2 years ago | (#41776887)

Abstract reasoning used to be the almost exclusive province of mathematicians and philosophers. Now we teach it in schools.

Perhaps, but we also use it now. We teach and use it on our electronic devices. Remember the "desktop metaphor"? People including kids regularly manipulate things through at least one layer of abstraction. We build this in starting around 3 years old these days.

My kid wants some new song on moms iPod, we have to "get it" on there. They navigate through the "store" to find it, then "buy it" and now it resides somewhere on the iPod where it wasn't before. While we take if for granted, this virtual world is far more abstract than buying a physical CD (record, tape) off the store shelf and then having to put it in/on a physical device to play it.

I have often suspected one of the reasons bilingual people tend to score as smarter is that they have abstracted the physical world away from the concept of "the word is the thing" out of necessity. Once you have a more abstract concept of a thing with words associated with it, you can think about it somehow at a more abstract level. I wonder if some of our virtual things these days are giving some of that benefit.

That and the fact that they teach reading earlier - my first grader could read most of this post, whereas I remember reading Dick and Jane around that age.

Choice (2)

Naatach (574111) | about 2 years ago | (#41776599)

I would argue that the mountain of choices we have available to us now compared to 100 years ago would account for some the gains in abstract reasoning measurements. 100 year ago: Rabbit A or Rabbit B didn't matter much. The store only had a few brands of any particular product, if they were even branded at all. Today - Shoes: sneakers, loafers, sandals, pumps, flat, Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Nunn Bush, Bass, brown, black, leather, synthetic, Air, laces, straps, etc. We have to choose what we think will suit us best, weight one choice against another hundreds of times per day. We have to weigh the inputs - advertising, peer pressure, style, function, preferences. All of this takes heavy reasoning capabilities.

2 words (4, Insightful)

Vinegar Joe (998110) | about 2 years ago | (#41776601)

Iodized salt.

100 IQ is relative to average (4, Informative)

ls671 (1122017) | about 2 years ago | (#41776605)

IQ is relative, so even if people were getting smarter on average, they should not score higher in IQ tests : []

When an IQ test is constructed, a standardization sample representative of the general population takes the test. The median result is defined to be equivalent to 100 IQ points. In almost all modern tests, a standard deviation of the results is defined to be equivalent to 15 IQ points. When a subject takes an IQ test, the result is ranked compared to the results of the standardization sample and the subject is given an IQ score equal to those with the same test result in the standardization sample.

Re:100 IQ is relative to average (2)

SirGarlon (845873) | about 2 years ago | (#41776707)

Interesting point. So perhaps the explanation is simple: the Lake Wobegon effect [] .

Re:100 IQ is relative to average (2)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | about 2 years ago | (#41776715)

And? They have to regularly readjust the raw scores upwards to keep the score required to be average at 100. If they didn't, the previous years' raw scores for 100 would shift the curve so that most people get a score of 101 or more.

Realize that there is a time component to the scores as well, as averages cannot be found for a single, instantaneous point in time. Because of this, people taking IQ tests furthest forward in time for a time range that the raw scores are calculated for will, in fact, tend to have higher IQ scores.

Re:100 IQ is relative to average (0)

EasyTarget (43516) | about 2 years ago | (#41776727)

Mod this up please!

It's important to understand that what is being discussed here is impossible; Correctly performed IQ testing cannot measure the overall intelligence of a society; just the relative performance of individuals within it.

The article author is either totally uninformed about IQ tests; or is trolling.

You missed something (5, Informative)

gr8_phk (621180) | about 2 years ago | (#41776939)

FTFA: "[A] person who scored 100 a century ago would score 70 today". So this means the scale has been adjusted and what we call average today would have been quite smart a century ago. You can't measure absolute IQ of a society, but you can do comparative studies of different societies or the same society at different times in its history.

Re:100 IQ is relative to average (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41777137)

Maybe that is why they said someone who got a 100 on the test years ago would get a lower score now? That seems to imply they know the average point used for a score of 100 shifts depending what year the test from. IQ tests can still be used for tracking trends over time, because they have to compare each test with a previous one to figure out where the score of 100 should be. There is a record of these adjustments for different tests going back some years.

Re:100 IQ is relative to average (1)

mmelson (441923) | about 2 years ago | (#41776905)

You've got to be careful with the term "average". In the text you quoted, it says that the *median* is defined as 100 IQ points, but that doesn't mean the *mean* isn't increasing. If the bottom half of the population is not getting dumber but the top half is getting smarter, you could have a situation where the median is still 100 but the mean is going up.

Can you score higher IQ? (1, Interesting)

alphatel (1450715) | about 2 years ago | (#41776607)

Despite being exceptionally bright, I never scored higher than 125 on the IQ tests they made you take in high school. Some years later I decided to try to get a high IQ to qualify for Mensa. After studying for only a month, I scored 145 on math and 132 on English. Can anyone make themselves appear smarter? Yes, despite the fact that many claim we can't.
Disclaimer: I may have been stoned to the bejezus when taking some of those high school iq tests.

Re:Can you score higher IQ? (1)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | about 2 years ago | (#41776767)

Of course you can. All IQ tests are essentially different cognitive games you must play and do well on. Unfortunately, the rules for each aren't given to you, so you must figure them out on your own. There are a finite set of these games used in tests, so if you take the effort to learn or figure out the rules ahead of time, you can absolutely affect your score, by dozens of points.

Re:Can you score higher IQ? (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | about 2 years ago | (#41776801)

Disclaimer: I may have been stoned to the bejezus when taking some of those high school iq tests.

That and the circumstances of the test might have been different. Back in Junior High, four students were taken from class without notice, taken to a room and told to take a test. I asked when we would get the results, and the test giver said that we wouldn't get to see them at all. With this I wasn't motivated to bother. Also, the test was some sort of multipart form where it was self grading after you separated the forms. I spent the entire time trying to figure out the mechanics of the forms, instead of what was written on them. To this day, I regret not taking the forms apart, since there was no rule that you couldn't and no stated downside if you did.

When you took the test for yourself, you were probably motivated to do well. When psychologists compare tests given to students, they tend to compare ones given under similar circumstances and similar motivation. Exspecially for kids pre-reading, motivation is the biggest factor in the test score.

Mensa == useless puzzle solving club (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41777345)

Except your true 125 is showing because you haven't realized that Mensa is pack with idiots.

Just as an example, do some research on the Mensa Investment Club.

Man's imagination exceeds his grasp (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41776613)

I don't think we're meant to know the answer to this one. Insert facts, or conspiracy theory here. I don't have time to read the full article, but what I would like to see is someone from *today* take a IQ test from "yesterday." If they do much better on today's, then its obvious that the test is easier. If they do the same on each, then that would make sense.
The other avenue takes us down the genetic/environmental train (neo-cons please step off), where we need to realize, if we are scoring higher on IQ tests that are the same, then we have to think about those two. I don't think genetic is going to play that large of a part - but could. Some of the smartest dogs are mutts, and we're all pretty mutt'ish here in the US. Also, we have a lllllllllot of things in our drinking water and foods that weren't around just 40 years ago. You could very easily say that nutrition helps cognitive thinking, however my experiences with people who base their decisions on emotions rather than fact, even thought they are very intelligent, makes me think twice about that.
Let's try a goto 10.... I don't think we're meant to know the answer to this one.

The Bar (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41776629)

Nah, the bar's just getting lower.

Definition of "smart" (5, Insightful)

SirGarlon (845873) | about 2 years ago | (#41776653)

I think the definition of "smart" is subjective. As Jerrod Diamond pointed out in his book "Guns, Germs, and Steel," a scientist from California looks "smart" on a university campus, but looks like a complete idiot in the New Guinea jungle, where he struggles to follow a trail or build a shelter or find potable water. Similarly, the New Guinean jungle-dweller can improvise all kinds of things in the jungle but doesn't understand how to cross the street or maybe even turn a doorknob. Going beyond Diamond's point, I would say the New Guinean doesn't *need* abstract reasoning or formal logic, but he does probably need to use his brain power in ways I can't really predict because I'd be an idiot in the jungle, myself. So, who is "smarter?" Their environments require different competencies.

Re:Definition of "smart" (4, Interesting)

jfruh (300774) | about 2 years ago | (#41776815)

Sorry this is uncited, but I remember reading about an IQ test that western researchers tried to give to residents of a rural African village sometime in the mid-to-late 20th century. Most of the villagers were illiterate, so the crux was developing a test that didn't involve reading or writing. One of the test items involved a bunch of abstract shapes that had been molded out of clay; the villagers were told to match the shapes that "went together." Most of them "failed" this part of the test, because the researchers' definition of "passing" would be to match up shapes that looked alike, whereas the villagers tried to interpret the shapes as real objects and group them functionally, e.g., they matched spherical objects that looked like fruit to long, thin objects that looked like knives.

Re:Definition of "smart" (1)

pmontra (738736) | about 2 years ago | (#41777017)

The researchers failed the IQ test. The villagers are more fit than them for their environment so it should be up to them to define what smart is there. Bring them to NYC and the roles are reversed. IMHO smart and dumb are not absolutes.

Re:Definition of "smart" (2)

k.a.f. (168896) | about 2 years ago | (#41776917)

That is completely true, but beside the point. Yes, there are many different kinds of intelligence, you need different sets of skills to succeed, your competence in one set doesn't predict competence in another set, intelligence isn't one-dimensional, etc. All true. But IQ tests are supposed to test precisely only one of these sets: analytical problem-solving intelligence, and they do exactly that. And they have been doing this and ignoring shelter-building or emotional intelligence from the beginning. And still the scores keep going up. So we would like to find a reason why even this limited, narrow slice of intelligence in the population seems to change.

THey make the tests easier (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41776675)

Because they don't want anyone to feel left out. This is the age of pussies.

Removed Pollution and Improved Diet (3, Insightful)

stoicio (710327) | about 2 years ago | (#41776681)

The gobal diet has improved and , believe it or not, environmental standards have improved.
Less exposure to heavy metals and diets rich in protein and fat.

IQ tests still used? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41776683)

I don't know in the US, but in europe nearly no one uses them anymore, they're considered just like puzzles that you can find on a weekly magazine. And it's weird that they are developed by psychologists, who are not exactly the smartest people around. It would be more appropriate if they were developed by physics PhDs or similar.

SAT/ACT Scores in America (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41776693)

These test scores are sorting men and women into colleges, who from that point marry and start reproducing. So yes, there is a eugenic effect from the academic aspect of society.

Other hypotheses- parasite load and nutrition (5, Insightful)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | about 2 years ago | (#41776697)

Many researchers disagree with Flynn about the cause of the Flynn effect. Two other common hypotheses are that lower parasite load in children leads to better functioning brains and older people will have bodies under less stress. Better nutrition does essentially the same thing. There's a fair bit of evidence for these hypotheses. For example, if nutrition levels matter then one would expect a lot more movement on the low end of IQ than on the high end and that's exactly what we see. [] . Meanwhile, a good case for the parasite load hypothesis can be found [] .

Re:Other hypotheses- parasite load and nutrition (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41777029)

People aren't getting smarter. Only better at taking tests. Schools nowadays put an emphasis on getting highscores at tests, not learning.
There are plenty people that get good test scores, but are completely lost when it comes to putting into practice what they've actually learned. Manuals are the best example of this.

Not so strange (3, Insightful)

medv4380 (1604309) | about 2 years ago | (#41776701)

Yea the IQ test has to be reballanced every so often to keep 100 at average, and what 100 is now is actually higher than 50 years ago. It's not that people are getting smarter though. It's that people are getting educated. If your average 50 years ago has a 30% illiteracy rate then if you decrease the illiteracy rate then it will appear that the population has gotten smarter. In part, that is true, but having more people educated just means that we are getting closer to our potential. Our maximum potential might not be moving at all, but it's hard to say where that is until the majority gets their maximum amount of education.

Global Consciousness (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | about 2 years ago | (#41776713)

See "Global Consciousness" [] and Jung's "Collective unconscious" []

Whether this is some sort of all-extensive world-soul, or just the fact that people are more connected because of technology, we all seem to be moving toward thinking the same.

A self-evident answer (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | about 2 years ago | (#41776717)

Surely if we really were more intelligent, we'd know the answer to the question "why are IQ scores improving?"

Re:A self-evident answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41777227)

And we'd know it from within the comfort of our flying cars too.

If we are getting smarter, which I personally doubt, then it's not making the world a better place.

Getting smarter? (2)

rossdee (243626) | about 2 years ago | (#41776719)

I wonder what the total IQ of the House Science Committee is?

No (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41776725)

Glenn Beck, Mitt Romney, Megan Kelly, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann. Do i have to go on?

Re:No (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41777359)

No need to go on, just remember to vote!

religion and non-idiocracy? (1)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#41776737)

a person who tested as average a century ago would today be declared mentally retarded.

Note decline in religiosity.

Also, despite widely held belief to the contrary, civilization might be killing off genetic lines of the stupid, which is good news, at least for /.ers who want to get some.

We're not getting smarter (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41776741)

Social changes have meant the development of more intelligence in some areas but less in others. IQ tests only test some areas of intelligence.

People are getting smarter, (1)

Dr. Pantzo (512770) | about 2 years ago | (#41776747)

but simply knowing facts is not intelligence. The reason the scores for abstract reasoning and previous knowledge are changing differently is because they're measuring two different constructs, usually referred to as "fluid intelligence" and "crystalized intelligence." I personally believe that long-term memory is not one of the things we usually think of as intelligent behaviors (e.g., problem solving). My wife's experience in medical school demonstrated that a lot of dumb people can test well. But also our environment is becoming much richer as access to mental exercise tools like books, software, Legos, the Internet, etc, explodes. And lots of research (e.g., this instantiation of Portal for rats from 1973: ) supports the notion that rich environments support intelligence.

Simpler (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about 2 years ago | (#41776755)

The mind is the same as muscle in this one regard: exercise it and it becomes stronger. Video games, puzzles, /. posting, and complex problem solving at work all exercise and improve cognitive function. We may do more, rather than less, of this thinking thing because of advances in technology.

Mind (1)

Diaspar (319457) | about 2 years ago | (#41776779)

The mind is getting better, while the quality of the actual experience diminishes.

Let me elaborate.

We're getting better at predicting, survival, information. While the *thinking* part is actually getting faster and more developed, the connectedness and the affinity with the world is diminishing. we're thinking more "about" things, from "the stands", and are wrapped up in our opinions. But we're loosing out on the actual quality of life, on the being present and in the moment.

The sad thing is that it really doesn't make us happy. We can suck up way more information, like a sponge, but what does it really help us?

Tests are academic (1)

argStyopa (232550) | about 2 years ago | (#41776789)

There are a number of variables in play:
- much better health levels for children
- no malnutrition (in the West, anyway)
- universal literacy and childhood education

Couple that with the fact that IQ tests are necessarily abstract and theoretical, something that matches far closer to our culture and daily lives today, and you've probably explained it.

A person could be a successful functional adult in the 1930s having dropped out of school at 8th grade. They could run their business, have employees and have a rather good life as a tradesman or farmer. Further, those trades and functions required a practical intelligence that is (afaik) never tested in such tests. I've had the pleasure of knowing a couple of individuals that have been - literally - mechanical geniuses, having a tremendously powerful intellect in terms of engines, motors, electricals (not 'electronics' ie circuit boards, etc), and when we talk about current events they're tremendously subtle and insightful. But I expect that they wouldn't 'register' as "high IQ" in a formal sense because they were relatively uneducated.

Further, I'm not sure if it's just me but everyone I know who actually talks about their high IQ (or worse, their mensa membership) is pretty immediately obviously a complete ass. Considering the high number of asses I meet daily, that would suggest that lots of people have high IQs, right?

IQ testing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41776807)

... doesn't test for quality of thought. There are plenty of smart people that believe weird things or have strange political beliefs. You can just look at slashdot to see that just having raw intelligence != quality of thought. The human mind doesn't work like the enlightenment thought it did. []

Literacy, Communication, Exposure = Evolution (2)

retroworks (652802) | about 2 years ago | (#41776861)

THEORY 1: From parents word of mouth, to church (organized sermons), to printing press, to larger printing presses, to internet. See growth of world literacy [] Literacy allows ideas to travel like invasive species, wiping out stupidity. Some virulent strains of stupidity still survive, and the Youtubization (audio and video) phenomena may make other forms of communication to trump literacy. But for the period of the study, IQ or test taking ability would be expected to increase as literacy increases.

THEORY 2: As Jesus said to his disciple "Psst, walk on the rocks". If you are using the same test for intelligence, word is going to get around how to pass that test. We don't know what kind of native intelligence is getting lost in "illiterate tribes" as the succeeding generations become literate rather than stick to old ways. Evolution vs. Diversity... The extinction of languages makes it difficult to tell whether the surviving languages are testing for their own genes.

I'd go with theory 1. But it's possible that IQ tests may just be measuring the rate of growth of a western IQ invasive species which tests it's own strain of DNA. If Whales had fingers and became the dominant species and flooded the land masses, drowning land mammals, they'd measure something different and find a statistical improvement in use of Whale intelligence.

Uh, no. (2)

JustAnotherIdiot (1980292) | about 2 years ago | (#41776863)

1. Twilight is considered a great book/movie by many.
2. People like Charlie Sheen and Kim Kardashian are considered celebrities.
3. People like Mitt Romney are serious contenders to be President of the United States, and people actually think he's a good candidate.
4. Sports are over glorified and players are often paid millions of dollars, but those teaching our kids to create a brighter tomorrow work for peanuts.

Not true anymore? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41776897)

I thought that since the 90's the flynn effect had stoped and that IQ had held constant or in some places went backwards.

If I were smarter (1)

pmontra (738736) | about 2 years ago | (#41776933)

I'd remember the name of that law about questions in titles and No as an answer. Nevertheless I'm afraid that we are just getting better at passing those tests we are taught to pass. That might actually be all there is in being smart (optimal fit to the environment) but I'd be surprised that the essence of being smart can be captured by logic tests.

Spatial reasoning (1, Interesting)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | about 2 years ago | (#41776959)

Men supposedly have better spatial reasoning based on the tests of manipulating blocks or gears in space.

But this is a culturally relative test.

Give a female who cooks a blob of leftovers or dough and she can pick the correct container that will hold the container without waste or a lot of air space. Most men can't.

Give a female a pile of dishes and a dishwasher vs a male with the same dishes and dishwasher and the average female will more effectively load the dishwasher than the male.

These are both spatial reasoning puzzles which are more complex than those given on tests.

Females have spatial reasoning- most of them just didn't play with lego blocks.

The tests are biased to men. That's why men have "superior" spatial reasoning.

IQ is BS (4, Insightful)

P-niiice (1703362) | about 2 years ago | (#41776995)

The reason is, IQ testing is subjective horseshit. People can be taught to think in a certain way, and people in an environment who think a certain way will do better than people who are in an environment where that 'way of thinking' isn't leraned/taught/reinforced.

When I started my first engineering job, I passed all of my courses pretty handily, but I still didn't know how to think for the job. My mentor told me this, and every beginning engineer he ran into had to learn how to think in the correct way. I spent all my co-op experience thinking for what was basically Engineering IT projects, and not product design stuff.

My IQ is a 142 by my last test, but it's only because of years of tech work. If I lived on a farm all my life and never did the variety of jobs I've done, there's no way I could score that.

Stims (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41777057)

Anything is possible with enough Adderall, Ritalin, and/or Modafinil.

IQ remains the same regardless of when you look (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41777069)

Headlines like this make me cringe. There is no such thing as 'rising IQ's' for the simple reason that an IQ is an average that slides up and down based on the average IQ of the population.

Average IQ will always be 100. If people get smarter the average is 100 IQ. If they get dumber, the average is still 100 IQ. In a world of morons, the worlds smartest man might be an idiot but compared to the other morons they would be above average.

So it's patently absurd to write an article title hinting that IQ scores are going up. All that does is show me that the author has no clue as to what IQ is measuring and how it scales.

IQ = Testing the ability to notice patterns (1)

MatthiasF (1853064) | about 2 years ago | (#41777089)

The IQ tests are a measure of how well a person can notice differences in patterns and cognitive reasoning.

I think the reason why the scores have been raising over the years is for the simple fact that people are using those portions of their brain more, by either the higher literacy rate (reading requires pattern recognition to make words from letters) or simply using a computer interface that allows for quicker interactions than possible before modern times.

But since there is only so much grey matter in our heads, I'm sure we are growing more terrible at other functions the more we tune ourselves to differencing.

I'm Glad! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41777107)

Malcolm Gladwell declares this a fact everyone. We can all go home now.

A couple things (1)

Arker (91948) | about 2 years ago | (#41777125)

Abstract reasoning is exactly what IQ is supposed to measure, so that part seems a bit confused. But beyond that, I think if you look more closely what is happening is moreso that the bottom end of the range is coming up (as a result of more widespread basic education) than that the top end is rising (smart people are actually smarter.) This probably has more to do with nutrition and medical care than anything else.

IQ :: the original intent. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41777135)

It's important to understand that IQ test were not designed to measure a person's aptitude, but rather measure a person's whiteness.

There was a series on several years ago (BBC :: Connections) where James Burke was describing the town criers
from the 15/16/1700's. He said that they would enter a town, and sing/chant the news for a couple of hours (or some time
like that) then leave. After a single hearing, people had memorized the whole chant. Try that today - ain't happening.
But, I'm pretty sure those people would never grasp the concept of an iPad.

I remember when my son was in school, I questioned some of the questions on the test for racial bias; the school was not
happy about that at all. They're so institutionalized in their system, it's outside of their scope to see the problem.

Idiocracy! (1)

realsilly (186931) | about 2 years ago | (#41777225)

I truly could not stand the movie Idiocracy simply because the portrayal of such a dumbed down society absolutely terrifies and disgusts me. But as I listen to the news and how information is spoon-fed to society, and the type of crap that is called good entertainment I weep for our future.

smarter or better at test taking? (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 2 years ago | (#41777247)

smarter or better at test taking?

Test Subject and Condisions have Changed (2)

oxnyx (653869) | about 2 years ago | (#41777271)

In a 4th history close we looked at the Mismeasure of a Man. One of the largest topics was IQ testing. One of the earliest wide scale tests was done on soldiers in the US army. In tents...without verbal directions or written directions..on a primary migrates and child of farms who had never been to school. This test taker were pressured with louds to GO! Oddly almost everyone could solve a maze puzzle (think children placemate) but when it came to complete the picture people did badly. These people might never have seen a Gramma phone or a modern light bulb. At the rules where very strick that the bowling ball had to be in the man hand not in the air or rolling down the alley. The Avg. was further dropped by the fact that many soldiers where confused or didn't understand so they didn't do anything and left there exam blank. Today people take IQ tests in quiet rooms and in schools. They are reading the directions and often have seen similar problems before. No we're not getting smart we are just better prepped to take the test. In fact the test orginally was designed to find weaknesses in a child learn skills not designed to find the brightest and the best.
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