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IQ test: Are we smarter?

Greta Frontero

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In the late 20th century, a psychologist named James R. Flynn conducted research showing that humans were steadily becoming smarter. His research, now known as the “Flynn effect,” shows that if an American today took an IQ test from 100 years ago, they would have an average score of 130. At the same time, if an American from 100 years ago took the test today, they’d have an average score of 70 (the average IQ runs in the range of 90-110).

The evidence seems overwhelming: Generation Z is smarter than all that have preceded it. But is that really true? It may depend on how you define intelligence.

In terms of IQ, if you were in the 50th percentile today and traveled back in time 20 or 30 years, you would move up about 30 percentage points, which is a huge increase,” said AP Psychology Teacher Mr. Robert Ebert.

So what is causing the increase in IQ scores by generation? One factor is education, with the idea that teaching has evolved over decades to move away from simple fact memorization toward more complex thinking. Furthermore, the fact that children are in school for more years and have become more “test-wise” may be linked to higher IQs as well, according to sources such as BBC News.

In addition to factors like increased nutritional standards and overall technological advancement, Ebert believes this trend can be largely attributed to “the habits of mind” humans have developed today.

“We’re thinking about more complicated things,” he said. “Our media is so much more complex, and the web—love it or hate it—is scintillating. There’s a lot of stimulation that occurs there, and we know our brains are plastic and made to respond to these changes.”

So according to the Flynn effect, teens in Generation Z have higher average IQ scores than that of their parents, grandparents, etc. But do these teens really feel smarter?

Senior Will Rackear said no, he doesn’t. “I don’t necessarily feel smarter than my parents,” he said. “I often look to them for advice because they can offer unique perspectives that a high school student might not be able to [offer].”

Junior Paige Radice agreed that her parents are still smarter than her despite the IQ trend.  “This is because of experience, something that my parents definitely have a lot more of than I do,” she said. “Yes, I could most likely take an IQ test with them and score higher, but there are aspects of life that I just have not experienced like college and real-world jobs that make them have overall greater knowledge of the world than I do.”

Radice also said this may stem from issues with the IQ test itself. She said that perhaps the test’s idea of intelligence doesn’t account for changes in society between generations that may be affecting our thinking. “Our ancestors’ main jobs were things in the agricultural field like farming, whereas now most jobs are very technology-based, and that requires a new type of knowledge that younger generations are acquiring but older ones are not,” she said. “That doesn’t mean my generation is smarter; we just have to think differently.”

So perhaps there is a fundamental issue with using IQ tests to measure intelligence. And Ebert believes intelligence alone should not be used to predict success. While Generation Z may have the highest IQ scores yet, Ebert says other factors such as creativity, social networks and grit should be used more than intelligence to predict success. “But all of that is missing from IQ tests,” he said.

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