These gains have been particularly large in the United States and other developed countries. Those increases are continuing into the 21st century.
In an article in the Wall Street Journal, James Flynn, the author of the effect, attempts to explain why this is happening.
It all comes down to the way we think about the world. Flynn sums it up perfectly with this quote:
“My father was born in 1885. If you asked him what dogs and rabbits had in common, he would have said, ‘You use dogs to hunt rabbits.’ Today a schoolboy would say, ‘They are both mammals.’ The latter is the right answer on an IQ test. Today we find it quite natural to classify the world as a prerequisite to understanding it.”
Our educations and world train us to classify things, use symbols, and think abstractly. A familiarity with the hypothetical changes the way we think. That makes us better at IQ tests than our ancestors. These tests use images and symbols, and familiarity with both boost scores.
Flynn’s position is that the way we’re educated and interact with the world makes us more innovative, able to see relationships rather than just physical facts. Critics argue that we’re, in a way, teaching to the test, and aren’t “smarter” than the people that came before us.
A comment on a post previewing Flynn’s book at Scientific American has a fascinating analogy for what Flynn describes. Everybody is born with very similar “hardware” (their brains), and that hasn’t changed much over the past century. What’s changed a great deal is the “software,” or how we solve problems.
The way we store things hasn’t changed at all, but we’re much better trained to process certain types of information.
So are we really smarter, or are we just producing more educated people?
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