Are we getting smarter?
April 20, 1998
This forum's introduction
Questions answered in this forum:
Why do we still look at IQ scores? Is technology the cause of rising IQ scores? Has environmental or health factors increased IQ scores? Do current IQ tests reflect the idea of multiple intelligences? How does a person's race or socioeconomic background affect his or her IQ score? Should student testing be changed to reflect the times? Viewer Comments
March 18, 1998
New findings unscramble the mystery of dyslexia.
August 27, 1997
A Gergen Dialogue with Howard Gardner, author of "Extraordinary Minds."
June 13, 1997
Does science prove the existence of woman's intuition?
November 26, 1996
Stephen Jay Gould talks about evolution.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of law.
American Psychological Association
An online IQ test.
Vickie Benear of Metairie, LA, comments:
There is a great difference between the intelligent and the educated. I think we are getting smarter but our education is declining. No matter how intelligent you are, if you are never exposed to, or educated on a subject, you cannot be knowledgeable about it. There are lots of people well educated who cannot use it because they are not intelligent enought to use the knowledge. There are others who are intelligent and uneducated who can figure out things but cannot possess knowledge that they are never exposed to, such as Latin, historic events, etc. I think that the number of intelligent, and well educated people are few and far between, primarily because of the poor education system that most recieve. This probably could have been said in a better and more concise way if I was more intellgent and better educated.
Hawj Lauj Morganton, NC, comments:
During the time of Aristotle very few people can read or write. Most of Aristotle's socalled scientific thoughts are wrong or invalid.
But if we can compare today's people to those who lived during Aristotle's time (and why not if "intelligence," as some say is not teachable but inherent) there are millions of people who can reason better than the said philosopher and have easily ten times the knowledge in absolute terms.
"Intelligence" in the classical sense has little to do with biology; it is a social construct. Although in real life ethical and moral imperatives prevent people from performing experiments to test the arguments for biologically-based intelligence, through mental deductions we can easily see that no one's intelligence -- including those who've proven in the course of their lives to be esteemed genius -- can manifest in isolation (say, in an island where they're given naught but food very discretely from a very young age, with no significant social contacts).
To paraphase Einstein, the amount even the most "intelligent" person knows is insignificant compared to all that human beings know they can know but still don't yet know, so the 3, 10, or 30 IQ points difference between the average folks who have not had severe pre or post natal brain damages is not any more objectively relevent than, say, the difference between someone driving a BMW and someone driving a cranky old Chevy. To a species who's been evolving, say, ten million years longer than homo sapiens -- the difference is zilch, though we jump like monkeys when we compared a university professor (who might score 150 on an IQ test because he does nothing his whole life but read and write) to a high school dropped-out poor farmer (who might score only a 95 on the same test, but who raises crops to feed his neighbors and perhaps the world).
The "nature" of intelligence is that there's ver little significance in and of itself without social contexts; it is therefore fallacious to argue that intelligence in the classical sense of the word is genetic/inherent and so it can't be taught or learned. I like to imagine if those who argue in such a manner had tested such a hypothesis on their own offspring by socially, nutritionally, and academically starving them and have them tested when the offspring attains his 18th birthday. Then we'd know for sure whether intelligence is purely biological or social in nature and can be amplified or diminished with respect to the environment to which he is exposed.
Robert Somadhi Rancho Cucamonga, CA, asks:
I'm not convinced that people are getting smarter. I think people are adapting to their surroundings and environment. There was a point in time where all a farmer had was a mule and some metal, so he made a plow. With that plow, some mules and some manpower, he was able produce food, which enabled him to make a living.
That same farmer today, needs to know quite a bit more in order to make living from that same farm. But I'm not convinced he smarter, I'm convince that a man will do whatever it takes to make a living.
I work in the computer field as a customer support rep for IBM, servicing the Texaco Account. I have found that even though people are using PC's on a daily basis, they are not any smarter. People use PC's to get work done faster, not because they are smarter. It always amazes me when a customer calls in and states that their PC is not working, and the solution to the problem was for them to plug it in. That's not so bad if it happens once, but for some of these people it's once or twice a month.
In short, I think people are adapting to their environment, and even though people appear to be smarter, I don't think we are.
Sarajane Siegfriedt of Seattle, WA, comments:
I became a member of Mensa at age 12--proving, I suppose, that I have a superior (99%ile) IQ. At age 49 (on 4/20!) I reflect fairly negatively on this information. Knowing my IQ as an adolescent isolated me and left me with unrealistic expectations for success. Success as the world usually defines it is more closely related to values of honesty, initiative, hard work and perserverance and the ability to relate to others, to be a leader, for example. True success, as we get older, is found in relationships--a stabile marriage and a feeling of making a valuable contribution. These are not related to IQ.
It took me years to learn to recognize and to work with my feelings, and to relate to others on a level other than analytical. I've now re-trained from an MBA in telecommunications marketing to an M.Div. trained as a chaplain workinbg in social services. My "emotional IQ" was abysmal until I retrained. Now I feel like a "whole person." I also like myself better!
Numerous studies have shown that IQ is not an indicator of success, by either definition, and, in fact, may be a negative indicator, beyond a certain point, perhaps because of inflated expectations. Brilliant engineers often fail as entrepreneurs. Brilliant MDs are not the best physicians, studies show. Brilliant men often make so-so politicians (e.g., Adlai Stevenson).
Mensa has a reputation for being full of socially inept people who have nothing else in common. (I dropped out after a year, at 13.) Does having a superior IQ put one at less risk for becoming an addict or complicating one's life in other ways? (Ask Bill Moyers' son.) Don't women with high IQ's still make the same mistakes in Dr. Laura's "10 Stupid Things Women Do?"
We need to put less emphasis on this single indicator. How about testing the ability to relate to others? Is there a test and a measurement for healthy values? If there were, could we detect angry the victims of childhood abuse, such as the older boy in Arkansas, and provide treatment? There is, after all, something commonly called"stupid" about his actions, and not being able to see the consequences of them. I don't think he planned on spending many years in jail. At this stage in life, my superior analytical ability just doesn't seem that important.
Brad Moulder Gainesville, FL, comments:
Divergent SAT and IQ scores do not constitute conflicting evidence of changes in abilities over the years. Instead, they suggest inprovements in the overall education provided to the average American accompanied by a faster rise in the proportion of Americans contemplating higher education.
Tim L. Kaminski Bolton, MA, asks:
The single biggest driver of increasing IQs over this half of the century is the ubiquity of Television. Lots of input to lots of minds can raise the collective IQ a wee bit every decade, certainly enough to be statistically significant.
In the final analysis, a bunch of hours in front of the tube each week increases the IQ of someone who would have been behind a plow or stuck washing clothes in the creek one hundred years ago.
Frank Macaluso Miami, Fl, comments:
This is a question in search of a definition. Doesn't the quality of the question answer the question? Does irrational behavior count against being considered smarter? On that score, does the proliferatin of gamblers, lottery players or the alleged increase in religious belief demonstate a decline in intelligence? Looking are the arts and the appreciation of them, I think one would have difficulty in making a case for "getting smarter." Perhaps the measure would be the percentage of the population engaged in intellectually challenging activity. I have no idea what that percentage is or its direction and there would be debates about what would be considered the relevant activities. Perhaps we should make a distinction between the potential and its realization. Are brains larger? Are there more connections? Should be consider the computer as an extension of human intelligence? In the end, I would argue that because of nutritional and environmental factors the capacity for being "smarter" has increased. We are still waiting for the realization of that potential, especially in the popular and political culture.
Bob Gembolis Kalispell, MT, comments:
A very well rounded friend remarked, "How did a smart fella like me get in a situation like this?"
The point being that neither extensive technical skills nor post-graduate degrees kept us form getting into situations that eneded in requiring a lot more time/effort/money then anticipated.
As a society we find the same happening over and over.
A local school board official in a blue collar town commented on his resigning, "We have empowered the stupid!"
My point is then that on some metrics the bell curve of intelligence is moving up. Their are perhaps merely more individuals who have mastered the skills of test taking. Practical applications are quite removed. The real question is then just what is being measured and how relevant is it?
David Bullock Kansas City, MO, asks:
I've studied intelligence and IQ a lot, I have a Master's Degree in Social Work, am currently in Osteopathic Medical School and will have 3 official degrees, including a medical one within just over 2 years. In my studies I have read that people who stay active, and keep learning increase their IQ's by about 1 point per year, which could mean phenomenal increases by the time most people are in their 50's or 60's, despite some of the severe abuse our brains take in the form of pollution, stress hormone overdoses and lousy food (yes, our food is pretty lousy but that's another issue). There have been multiple experiments on animals showing deprived "childhoods" with lack of interaction with other, lack of variety in the environment leads to significantly decreased problem solving skills. (such as the ability to figure out mazes and get the rewards from that) Similar experiments have shown that mice and rats genetically bred to be stupid -to lack the ability to figure out mazes and puzzles, if stimulated from "childhood" with complex environments with lots of different visual, physical, auditory and tactile stimuli can outperform genetically bred superior mice and rats which are left in ordinary environments when young.
Genetic and stastical studies generally point to about 50-50 impacts from the twin effects of genetics and environment, but I think we have just started to realize how much genetic potential we may have, and all the extra stimulation from news, education & etc on TV as well as all the sensory stimulation and thinking stimulation used in playing many computer games (despite what parents think) is driving the curve up.
What's really great is we have no idea how far we may be able to go up !
Laura Warman of Seba Beach, AB, Canada, comments:
IQ, by definition, is a measure of the intelligence of the population as a whole, distributed in a bell curve. If IQ scores are coming up 'higher' then there is something wrong with the test. If you are referring to increased scores on tests that measure certain aspects of intelligence, don't describe them by the term "IQ." This sort of sloppiness confuses the issue greatly. If you want a straight answer, ask the right question first.
Leo Feret Poughkeepsie, NY, comments:
Statistical analysis of IQ scores of course does not validate we are getting smarter in the Howard Gardner sense, since IQ tests don't measure his parameters. To really determine if homo sapiens is moving up on a scale that matters, let's evaluate Olympic records, frequency of war in the world, per cent of population poverty "now" vs "then," etc. Has collective mankind's lot improved? Data mining of existing data bases will show trends far more interesting than IQ scores rising -- but only if somebody "smart" asks the right questions. And that sombody may be a team of programmers, not an individual....
Mario Montag Gainesville, FL, comments:
With the evolution of time, the more we learn, the better our abilities to solve problems, analyze information or feelings, recognize patterns, etc.
Our lives are becoming more complex everyday. If we look at the technology factor (the fastest growing one), we find the necesity to have to know more things just to survive in the 20th century. From cell phones, faxes, computers, laptops, modems, etc.
Why are todays children so technologically more advanced than our parents were a couple of dacades back. The answer is simple. Us as humans progress as a species, we are constantly learning new things that add to our excisting knowledge. The more knowledge that we have, the more intelligent we will be. Knowledge will always increase someones intelligence. I't does not matter what type of measurments you would like to use, the overall IQ will be higher.
I'm a college student at University of Florida, and I find many students feeling more intelligent than their parents. Because of some decisions they will make not to repeat some mistakes their parents made.
I would call the increase in IQ's over the years - Natural Human Evolution - Something we were born to do as the most intelligent species in this planet.
Stinnett Davenport, FL, comments:
Yes we are living in an increasingly complex and visual world. To me it seems we are experiencing 'information saturation'. Since we can only perceive what we have time and inclination to experience we naturally miss out on lots of new developments. We also forget a lot of previously learned knowledge for lack of its usefulness. Therefore formulating a comprehensive general Intelligence Quotient test seems to me to be impractical to impossible. Special tests for special subjects seem much more appropriate.
Roger Pariseau Oxnard, CA, comments:
Sure 'nuff. Standardized IQ tests can be and are being taught by elementary school teachers. A person with more subject knowledge can score lower than a lesser student who does know how to take tests. This is true of virtually any "objective" test.
The problem is that most IQ tests are academically based (biased?). This means that those instruments measure aborbed scholastic material and methods rather than actual raw intelligence. There are measuring tests far better than the commonly-used ones, among them those offered by the Four Sigma Society.
Generally speaking, the less verbally-oriented the instrument, the more likely it will accurately measure a persons intelligence.
Kip R. Leitner Philadelphia, PA, comments:
Obviously, over an evolutionary time span, some people are getting smarter, and some aren't, so fluctuations in test scores in all intelligence components are to be expected.
Any group of minds which over time interacts creatively with themselves, other people, ideas, and social and physical environments under non-distressing conditions will hava a better chance of some of its members evolving their capacitites into more complex intelligences. Likewise, any group of minds which over time are denied the aforementioned criteria will not have as good of a chance of evolving their capacities into more complex intelligences.
The question is not whether we are getting smarter and dumber - for this surely true - but who's getting smarter, and who's getting dumber, and why those who are getting smarter are getting smarter in certain areas, and why those who are getting dumber are getting dumber in certain areas.