Are humans getting smarter? Scientists seem to think so. IQ scores are rising at an astronomical rate, but our genetic potential for intelligence might be on the decline. So, researchers aren’t entirely sure why we appear to be getting smarter – it doesn’t make sense. The Flynn Effect suggests that intelligence is on the rise, but are you smarter than your ancestors? Let’s take a look. 

The Flynn Effect Suggests We’re Getting Smarter 

James R. Flynn is one of the world’s leading figures in modern philosophy. His foray into psychology has been undermined by controversy, particularly when it comes to something he dubbed the “Flynn Effect”. 

The Flynn Effect has shown that the average measured intelligence, or IQ, has been on the rise. But does this method actually measure intelligence, or is it fluff? The difficulty is that “being smart” isn’t categorized by one thing – or it shouldn’t be. There are levels to intelligence, and what one person is talented at, another may falter in. 

Michael Woodley, a psychologist from Umea University in Sweden, highlighted the complexities of this research. “It’s not simply that intelligence is going down or going up,” he said. “Different parts of intelligence could be changing in lots of different ways.” 

Are humans actually getting smarter? Or is the Flynn Effect an incomplete method of actually measuring intelligence? 

are you smarter than your ancestors

How Does the Flynn Effect Work?

IQ tests have been standardised over the past 100 years, which allows scientists to have their volunteers take the same tests as their ancestors. Flynn and his fellow researchers found that younger generations have consistently scored higher results on the old tests, than the original test takers. 

The increases are substantial – by at least three extra points per decade. Flynn and other researchers believe that the rising scores can be somewhat attributed to improving lifestyles and environments. IQ is partially inherited, and partially environmental. Helping a young child learn early on in life, means that they’ll likely have a higher IQ later. Effective nutrition, schooling, and stimulation may also contribute to the Flynn effect. 

So, are you smarter than your ancestors? Yes and no – intelligence is subjective. 

People are also taught to think differently. Woodley uses an analogy of a dog and a hare. Ask an 18th century person to explain a connection between a dog and a hare, and they might use something more literal from their lived experiences – eg. The dog hunts the hare. 

Contrastingly, if you ask a person in the 21st century to describe their relationship, they may say that they’re both mammals. Our type of thinking has changed, and it’s making us smarter. 

So, are you smarter than your ancestors? Yes and no – intelligence is subjective. 

Humans Are Getting Smarter, and Our Environments May Have Something to Do With it 

Are you smarter than your ancestors? In a sense, it seems so. The Flynn Effect looks at how IQ has been rising over the last hundred years, comparing modern day IQ scores to the scores of our ancestors. The results are stark – the scores are rising, and our environments may have something to do with it. Access to more resources, better nutrition, and improved technology all feature, as does the fact that the way we’re taught to think has changed. Either way, we’re clearly outperforming our ancestors – but what exactly does that mean? Is it even important? 

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