Why our IQ levels are higher than our grandparents' | James Flynn | Summary and Q&A

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September 26, 2013
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Why our IQ levels are higher than our grandparents' | James Flynn

TL;DR

This content explores the cognitive history of the 20th century and how our minds have dramatically changed over time.

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Questions & Answers

Q: How have our minds changed over the 20th century?

Our minds have gone from analyzing a concrete world based on personal benefit to grappling with a complex world that requires new mental habits such as classification, logical consistency, and the consideration of hypothetical situations.

Q: What evidence is there of the changes in cognitive abilities over time?

IQ test scores have shown significant gains over the years, with each succeeding generation outperforming the previous ones. If scores from a century ago were compared to modern norms, the average IQ of that time would be 70, while our average IQ today would be 130.

Q: Were our ancestors mentally disabled or are we all gifted?

Rather than proclaiming our ancestors as mentally disabled or assuming that we are all gifted based on IQ scores, it is more insightful to consider the cognitive changes that have occurred over time and the new mental habits we have developed.

Q: How can the analogy of weaponry advancements help us understand the changes in our mental abilities?

Similar to how advancements in weapons technology led to improved shooting scores, our mental abilities have also evolved due to the "mental artillery" we have acquired over time. Our increased education, exposure to scientific thinking, and cognitive demands in various professions have contributed to these changes.

Q: How have education and employment played a role in shaping our cognitive abilities?

The increase in years of formal education, the emphasis on scientific education, and the upgrading of professions to be more cognitively demanding have all contributed to the development of new mental habits such as classification, logical thinking, and the ability to handle abstractions.

Q: How have these changes in cognitive abilities affected moral debates?

Taking the hypothetical seriously, using logic on abstractions, and considering universals have led to escalated moral debates. The ability to engage in hypothetical scenarios and analyze moral principles objectively has helped challenge inherited biases and beliefs, leading to more sophisticated moral reasoning.

Q: What is a disheartening trend regarding our cognitive abilities in politics?

While our cognitive abilities have progressed in various areas, there is a concerning trend among young Americans who show less interest in history, literature, and knowledge about foreign lands. This lack of historical and worldly awareness can hinder effective political participation and decision-making.

Q: What is the overall message about the changes in cognitive abilities?

The 20th century has demonstrated that ordinary individuals possess significant cognitive reserves and can defy the belief of aristocracy that their mindset and abilities were beyond reach. The acknowledgment of these cognitive changes brings a more nuanced understanding of human potential.

Summary

In this video, the speaker discusses the cognitive changes that have occurred in the 20th century. He explains how our minds have transformed from focusing solely on concrete situations to dealing with a complex world, incorporating concepts like classification, logical consistency, and the consideration of hypothetical scenarios. The speaker also highlights the significant increase in IQ scores over time and explores the implications of these changes in various areas, such as education, employment, and moral debate.

Questions & Answers

Q: How have our minds changed over the 20th century?

Our minds have transitioned from being focused on the concrete world to coping with a more complex reality. We now employ new mental habits, such as classification, logical consistency, and the consideration of hypothetical scenarios.

Q: What are some examples of these mental habits?

Some examples include classifying the world around us, using logic on abstractions, and taking hypothetical situations seriously. These habits have become necessary for navigating the increasingly complex world we live in.

Q: How have IQ scores changed over time?

IQ scores have shown significant gains over the years. People today score much higher on IQ tests than their predecessors did in the past. If individuals from a century ago were to be scored against modern norms, they would have an average IQ of 70, while if we were to be scored against their norms, we would have an average IQ of 130.

Q: What are the implications of these IQ gains?

The drastic increase in IQ scores prompts questions about the mental capacities of previous generations. However, instead of assuming mental retardation or giftedness, the speaker proposes a different perspective. He suggests that our cognitive changes are a result of developing new mental artillery, much like soldiers upgrading their weapons, rather than a reflection of innate intelligence.

Q: What insight does Luria provide regarding cognitive habits?

Luria's research reveals that people just before the scientific age were resistant to classifying the concrete world, deducing the hypothetical, and dealing with abstractions using logic. Luria's interviews demonstrate this resistance, as individuals struggled to classify objects, think hypothetically, and consider abstract concepts.

Q: How has education changed over the years?

Education has undergone significant transformations, with a greater emphasis on scientific education. The length of formal education has increased, and topics that were previously focused on concrete information have shifted towards abstractions and logical connections.

Q: What about employment? How has it changed?

Cognitively demanding professions have witnessed significant growth over the years. From only three percent of Americans practicing such professions in 1900, today, 35 percent of Americans are engaged in cognitively demanding occupations. The nature of these professions has also evolved, incorporating advanced training, upgrading tasks, and increased cognitive flexibility.

Q: How have changes in cognitive habits influenced moral debate?

The evolution of cognitive habits, such as taking the hypothetical seriously, considering universals, and applying logic, has escalated moral debates in developed nations. By employing the hypothetical, individuals can explore various perspectives and engage in logical arguments, moving beyond inherited mores or fixed attitudes.

Q: How has the IQ test reflected cognitive changes?

Specific subtests within the IQ test, such as the classification subtest, show the most significant gains. The ability to classify the world and reason with abstractions has improved greatly over the years. People can now handle more sophisticated cognitive tasks, demonstrating their ability to ignore superficial symbol appearances and delve into abstract reasoning.

Q: Are there any areas in which progress has not been made?

One disappointing aspect is the decline in historical and cultural knowledge, particularly among young Americans. Ignorance of history and foreign lands hinders their ability to engage in politics effectively. Without a solid understanding of past events and foreign affairs, individuals struggle to make informed decisions and lack a crucial context for political discussions.

Takeaways

The 20th century has witnessed significant cognitive changes in human beings. Our minds have adapted to cope with a more complex world, resulting in improved classification skills, the ability to reason with abstractions, and the consideration of hypothetical scenarios. These changes have impacted various aspects of society, such as education, employment, and moral debates. While progress has been made in many areas, there is also a need to address the decline in historical and cultural knowledge in order to cultivate well-rounded individuals capable of effective political engagement.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Our minds have dramatically altered over the 20th century, going from analyzing a concrete world to analyzing a complex world using classification, logical consistency, and the hypothetical.

  • IQ gains over time have been massive, with a significant increase in the number of questions answered correctly on IQ tests, suggesting a change in cognitive abilities.

  • The changes in our minds have impacted education, employment, and moral debate, leading to more focus on classification, logic, and the hypothetical.

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