The Flynn Effect: Modernity Made Us Smarter

I listen regularly to Steve Mirsky’s Science Talk weekly podcast @SteveMirsky  |  @sciam ). In fact, the quality of this podcast is the reason I subscribe to Scientific American (just renewed again!).  On August 20, 2012, Mirsky’s Science talk featured a fascinating 33 minute discussion with James Flynn.  Flynn studies intelligence at the University of Otago in New Zealand.  The Scientific America article entitled “Can We Keep Getting Smarter?” heavily references Flynn’s work.

The “Flynn Effect” attributed to Flynn describes the long sustained increase in intelligence test scores measured in many parts of the world since the early 1900s.  In Flynn’s words “we have been buzzing along at 3 IQ points per decade.”  Flynn describes how we use our brains in our lifetime very differently than our ancestors.  Flynn describes three levels of causality for this change in intelligence.  First, at the most remote level is the industrial revolution which brought us into modernity, let us educate the masses and develop the scientific method.  The proximate cause is how our minds are different in the IQ test rooms.  The intermediate causes are a host of influences including more formal schooling, more cognitively demanding jobs and more cognitively demanding leisure.

In the podcast, you get a feel for how intelligent someone is who spends a career studying intelligence.  I look forward to reading Flynn’s new book Are We Getting Smarter? Rising IQ in the Twenty-First Century.  I also recommend Scientific American for the broad coverage on scientific discoveries and revelations of all kinds.  There are an astonishing number of discoveries happening in space with the extensive array of telescopes, sensors, probes and rovers launched over the past several decades.  There is also an ominous reality of climate change (I am starting to call it climate return) coming home to roost.  I hope articles like this are science fiction:

Megastorms Cloud Drown Massive Portions of California

Perhaps we will get smart enough in a few decades to understand the climate!

~ | @jhk24