The report deals with the question “Is the world getting smarter?” The report aims to present critical arguments in response to the essay question. The report critically evaluates the evidence surrounding the Flynn effect. The Flynn effect deals with I.Q scores of population and the way it changes over time (Shenk, 2017). The IQ score refers to the intelligence quotient. James Flynn, an American political scientist in one of his study conducted IQ tests scores for different population over the past 60 years. He observed that in all the countries, the data showed that the IQ scores increased from one generation to the next. This phenomenon is known as the “Flynn Effect” which reflects the improving modern environment (Flynn & Flynn, 2012). It is due to these interesting phenomena, that there is a rising curiously to know if the world is getting smarter and if there is an underlying genetic potential. It is the rationale for choice of the topic. More studies are conducted in this field to know if the present generation is smarter than then their grandparents are. Various controversies have aroused in response to the Flynn IQ tests. Some researchers have observed the negative Flynn effect, which do not reflect that humans are getting smarter. The reports thus, intend to address the question by using evidence-based arguments from the literature. For this purpose peer review articles will be researched from the online databases.
There is a skyrocketing advancement in technology right from heart transplants to use of smartphones. As per Shenk (2017) in the past 100 years Flynn effect have been tested by many researchers. The Flynn tests are valid since the IQ tests are revised and standardised several times. The volunteers have conducted tests that were designed for members of previous generations. Flynn observed that new generations have scored higher than the original test takers in different parts of the word. Despite the geographic variation, the increase in scores for each decade, tend to be around three extra IQ points. Froehlich et al. (2016), who explained that the IQ scores reflect the improvement in the modern environment, also support these test results. This paper explained the increase in the IQ score. It says that both hereditary and the environmental factors are responsible for the increase in the score. Children have higher IQ in later life if they grow up in environment with lots of learning opportunities. It may be interpreted that these opportunities have led to increase in IQ over time.
Latest studies support the Flynn effect and argues that the “world is getting smarter”. The modern researchers also explained Flynn effect in terms of better nutrition, better education, and more simulation that leads to increase in IQ score. Better education leads to better vocabulary and scientific habits of mind (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2015). These arguments may be reasonable to an extent because in 19th century people may explain the relationship between dog and hare as “dog hunts the hare”. However, the response generated by the modern person may be somewhat different. It may be “dogs and mammals are both mammals”. It represents the abstract thinking, which may have caused the increase in IQ score. Flynn’s explanations can be considered valid because in the modern world there is wealth of visual images which may have improved the mapping skills of people. There is a better understanding among the modern people in regards to three-dimensional figures and how they rotate.
Based on the studies conducted on genetics humans are not getting smarter. According to Boomsma (2014), around 2000 genes control the human intelligence, it was found that between 2000 and 6000 years, humanity’s intelligence peaked. Considering the rate of accumulation of the genetic mutation, it was calculated that almost all of the humanity have sustained at least two mutations, within the last 3000 years. These mutations were harmful to the genes determining the intellect. Based on these studies it can be interpreted that not all the mutations leads to harm. In case of mutation, the strong gene can cover the weakness of the weak gene as they exist in pairs. As per the calculations of these geneticists, intelligence is more fragile than it seems. The researcher Gerald Crabtree analysed that when species were hunter-gatherers, there was more the need of intelligence. For instance, failing to throw the spear at lion during attack means falling a prey and no more passing of the genes to the offspring. The present modern generation rarely faces such tests of life and deaths (Baker et al., 2015). These results reflect that unlike our ancestors, intelligence is not evolutionarily important to present day humans. These evidences are not strong enough to argue that humans are not getting smarter. Without the smart thinking, such technological advancements would not have been possible. Thus, it is questionable if the humans are becoming smarter than before.
Boomsma (2014) argued that humans are getting both smarter and dumber with time. This argument is based on various new studies that suggest that rising IQ scores are on decline including the underlying genetic potential for the smarts. According to this study, by one measure of intelligence the “Victorians has modern folk beat”. The study highlighted the trouble associated with the measurements. The measurements really reveal the intelligence is doubtful. Moreover, smarts are not defined by just one thing. This argument may be true because the factors that develop a clever person in African Savannah may not be same when considering the smart people in developed centres of Hong Kong. Michael Woodley, a Sweden psychologist, supports this argument through his new research. Froehlich et al. (2016) showed that intelligence is not simply increasing or decreasing. He argues that different parts of the intelligence are changing in different manner. The decline of the human intelligence has been agued by other researchers who have worked on dysgenic mating. Various genetic studies showed a negative relation between the IQ and reproduction. As per these studies, intelligent people have fewer babies. In this respect intelligence being partly genetic the IQ scores should have been dropping. However, the Flynn effect showed an increase in IQ score thereby creating a paradox for the theory of dysgenic mating (Dutton et al. 2016). These arguments against Flynn can be contradicted with the fact that in Norway and Sweden more children are born to lower IQ and less educated people. Both countries make easy availability of the birth control. The still rising IQ scores in most part of the world according to Flynn might be the environmental factors causing genetic problems
The decrease in intelligence over time has been observed that contradicts the Flynn effect. Michael Woodley and other researchers have tuned to reaction time to prove this argument instead of IQ tests. The reaction time is the time required to respond to the stimulus. Unlike the IQ scores, the reaction time is not influenced by the cultural factors. Reaction time was chosen because it represents the ability of the individual to engage in cognitive processing. The results of the study in 1880 showed higher average reaction time for men when compared to women (Madison et al., 2016). After 1941, Sir Francis Galton conducted 12 similar studies and found that the average reaction time was much slower than before. Michael Woodley expanded these studies in 2010 using improved timers that ensure the accuracy of the results. The pendulum-based machines used in Galton’s studies were also found to be accurate within 10 ms. The group with more inbreeding performed worse, on the reaction time test (Kenrick & Griskevicius, 2013). These study results compels one to believe that with more genetically influenced components of intelligence, the intelligence have been declining. However, these tests are questionable as Flynn argued that peak reaction time is same for both dull person and brilliant person. The argument is valid because it may be really a neutral speed or may be that people are more willing to take risks.
Considering the various genetic studies and reaction time tests it can be argued that the underlying decline of the human capacity to think smart is being masked by the Flynn effect.. Thus, the underlying decline a “psychometric dark matter” may not be highlighted on the tests conducted on pen and paper. As per Michael Woodley, this situation represents “low quality seeds but high quality fertilisers” (Madison et al., 2016). Woodley argues that a high quality environment may have been masking the decline in “smart genes”. However, these arguments are supported with valid reasons in the literature. There may be several possibilities right from natural section, to exposure to neurotoxins. Based on the reaction time tests it can be interpreted that over time the ability of smart thinking is shrinking. These, studies contradict the arguments in favour of Flynn effect, which explained that better education and opportunities leads to smart thinking. However, Flynn criticised the reaction time tests as there may be differences in technologies for timing responses. Reaction time tests may have procedural differences in the instructions given to the participants, the form of response keys, extent of prior practice, the nature of stimuli, numbers of trials which generates the averages, which altogether influence the response length (Must Must & Mikk 2016).
Analysis of the arguments in response to Flynn effect increases curiosity if at all increasing IQ scores means getting smarter. If accomplishing greater things by brain is intelligence then there is no progress in this respect since 1900. Genes do not select in the manner in four generations that it can be concluded that present world have better genetically engineered brains (Arden et al., 2014). Smartness in terms of doing creative work or solving conceptual problem have increased over time. People today are more creative than those in 1900 (Kenrick & Griskevicius, 2013). However, the questions arises if people in 1900 were equally adapted to circumstances as they are today. Yes, they are equally adapted. People in early 1900 did work in factory, and did hunting. It indicates their capability to cope up. They were not mentally retarded when they had an average IQ of 70. In this regard it can be interpreted as no gain in intelligence. However, people today are adapted to far more complicated world and in this context, yes there is a gain of intelligence (Shenk, 2017).
According to Flynn & Flynn (2012) these gains may continue through future decades with the rise in percentage of people exposed to tertiary education in different parts of the world. There is need of further increase in people attending graduating schools. These gains may continue with increase in people who engage in refining their skills and self-education. This argument appears to be valid, as ever since the introduction of the formal education in Britain and in America in 1900 the IQ scores have gone up (Baker et al., 2014). Recently, there have been huge IQ gains in Kenya. However, the developed nations and the strong economic conditions are not just because of IQ but also other circumstances. For instances, IQ gains have been observed in island of Dominica as per Flynn test (Flynn, 2013). However, terrible things such as hurricanes, mudslides, may slow down the economic development. If the Flynn effect was irrelevant then the courts in US would not have taken this into consideration. Most US courts say that it is permissible to apply the Flynn effect, which is having an influence on cases (Grégoire et al., 2015). The reason for this decision was increase in IQ gains over time among the convicted murder, which led to spare of death sentences.
It can be concluded from the old and modern research in the field of increasing IQ scores and the decreasing reaction times that these results may have a measurable correlation. However, it is difficult to explain the measure of IQ with the results of the reaction time due to short of the order of such correlation. Reaction time tests may not be accurate as peak reaction time is same for both dull person and brilliant person. Just as there are arguments against Flynn effect there are also many flaws found in the reaction time tests and the interpretations made by the geneticists. Moreover, the effects of the genes are not yet fully explored. Therefore, it cannot be interpreted if Flynn effect was invalid and other genetic tests and reaction time tests were valid. Therefore, it is not clear if indeed world is getting smarter. People today are more creative than those in 1900 and people today are adapted to far more complicated world and in this context, yes there is a gain of intelligence. Our ancestors cannot be called stupid as they too adapted to the concrete world of everyday life. However, present generation is living in times of wide range of cognitive problems that that encountered by our ancestors. Eventually, today’s human have developed the brain that can deal with these problems. It can be said that the world is getting more modern instead of smarter.
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