Are our Children Smarter than Us?

The answer is an unambiguous Yes. I’m sure none of the parents or grandparents reading this post will dispute this. If anyone needs a proof consider the following: If you want to buy a smart phone, a MP3 or a computer, whom do you consult? Of course your son or daughter or nephew or niece. Having bought a gadget, whom do you consult for setting it up and training you on how to use the same? The answer is not very different again. If you get stuck up while using it, who helps you? The answer is the same again. As for me, I always tend to postpone buying the next version of a smart phone or iPad purely because I find myself wasting a lot of time understanding the new gadget.

While this may be known to us intuitively, a scientific study was made by James  Flynn who compared IQ test scores of different generations over the past 100 years. His findings are presented in his book “What is Intelligence” published in 2007. In one typical study, the IQ- scores of  two large groups of Dutch people were assessed with a 30-year gap. The IQ distributions indicated that the mean IQ-scores on the test had increased by 21 points (the Flynn effect) per generation (30-year gap).

It’s important to mention here that the ability to answer questions related to factual knowledge based on experiential learning has not changed over the years. For instance, questions related to geography or history have shown more or less similar scores over the generations. What has really contributed to higher IQ score is the vastly improved capabilities for abstract reasoning. Flynn, for instance, gives the example of a question ‘What do a dog and a rabbit have in common?’ A modern respondent might say they are both mammals, an abstract answer (an a priori answer, which depends only on the meanings of the words ‘dog’ and ‘rabbit’ ), whereas someone belonging to early 20th century might have said that humans catch rabbits with dogs (a concrete, or a posteriori answer, which depended on what happened to be the case at that time).

Abstract reasoning requires an ability to identify patterns among different abstract shapes or numbers or objects where irrelevant and distracting material is often presented. The presence of irrelevant or distracting material or information can sometimes lead to incorrect conclusions. Abstract reasoning tests measure a candidate’s ability to change track, critically evaluate and generate hypotheses as they progress through the test. Abstract reasoning involves flexible thinking, creativity, judgment, and logical problem solving. In contrast , concrete reasoning depends upon facts, events etc.

Flynn accounts for the increase in abstract reasoning capabilities to increased exposure to many types of visual media. From pictures in print media to movies to television to video games to computers, each successive generation has been exposed to richer optical displays than the one before and may have become more adept at visual analysis. Mass education in Science & Technology is another important factor contributing to one’s capabilities in abstract reasoning and logic.

The so called Flynn effect has stunning implications. For instance, if a typical person  today were to time-travel to 1910, he would be smarter than 98% of his or her contemporaries. To put it more jarringly, if a guy belonging to 1910 were to  time-travel to the modern-day world, his IQ  score would be no more than 70 which is considered to be a border-line case of mental retardation. This is not to say that people living in the past were close to being mentally retarded. Far from it. They had intelligence appropriate to their living conditions and needs.

Well, today’s teens need not go overboard on these findings, for, it’s a matter of time before the present teens may be considered below par in IQ – perhaps about 100 years from now!

Published in: on July 11, 2016 at 12:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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