June 16, 2014

OUR SCREENS ARE MAKING US SMARTER:

Is the modern world making us smarter? What's behind the rise in IQ scores? (Charli Kerns, 6/16/14, The Week)

You might assume that the rise in IQ scores is due to people doing better on basic math skills and memorizations -- basically, anything we can study for. But what's especially interesting about the Flynn Effect is that the opposite seems to be true: Humanity's biggest improvements have been in abstract thinking and general cognitive functioning.

One standard intelligence test is Raven's Progressive Matrices, developed by English psychologist John C. Raven in 1936. The test is a series of 60 non-verbal multiple-choice questions that's ideal for measuring abstract reasoning. A test-taker is shown a series of patterns in a 3×3 grid, with one picture missing; the person has to pick the right pattern out from multiple choices. It's not the kind of test you can easily cram for.

When researchers administered the Raven's test to groups of people born in Dumfries, Scotland, and Des Moines, Iowa over a 100-year period, they found that test scores increased steadily in both populations of people along with their birth year. The pattern can be seen across a variety of tests, all over the world.

Researchers have come up with a few different explanations for why IQ scores are on the rise. Better nutrition and educational opportunities for the underserved in the world, especially for girls, are thought to be huge factors. Improvements in education across countries are bringing increased focus on scientific topics to more and more people, which fosters abstract thinking.

Another possible explanation is that we're living in more stimulating environments nowadays. With the rise of hyperconnected technology, modern people are being exposed to both richer more and complex entertainment and information options than their ancestors. Our children can parse storylines from Harry Potter while flirting and posting on Facebook. This new environment may encourage people to become fluent in multiple visual languages. This might help explain why tests like Raven's have shown the greatest increases -- they depend on quick visual analysis.
Posted by at June 16, 2014 5:44 PM
  
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