- IQ scores have been steadily rising for a century, a phenomenon now known as the Flynn effect.
- The surge in scores comes from supposedly “culture-free” tests of intelligence such as pattern matching.
- Researchers believe the effect has its root in the increasingly abstracted nature of modern life.
- More advanced minds create technologies that, in turn, enhance intelligence still further, forging a feedback loop that shows no signs of abating.
Twenty-eight years ago James R. Flynn, a researcher at the University of Otago in New Zealand, discovered a phenomenon that social scientists still struggle to explain: IQ scores have been increasing steadily since the beginning of the 20th century. Flynn went on to examine intelligence-test data from more than two dozen countries and found that scores were rising by 0.3 point a year—three full points per decade. Nearly 30 years of follow-up studies have confirmed the statistical reality of the global uptick, now known as the Flynn effect. And scores are still climbing.
“To my amazement, in the 21st century the increases are continuing,” says Flynn, whose most recent book on the subject— Are We Getting Smarter?— is being published this month. “The latest data show the gains in America humming right along at the old rate of three tenths of a point a year.”
This article was originally published with the title Can We Keep Getting Smarter?.