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Mindful : December 2017
IQ points keep rising with each generation, but the tests are leaving out emotional intelligence, creativity, and wisdom— the very traits we need to solve our most pressing problems. We are well advised to avoid certain things as we age. Right behind making cranky com- plaints about the latest music are mutterings about “young people these days...” So I ask this question advisedly: What the heck are young people doing with all those extra IQ points they’ve gained on their elders? In a seminal discovery about human intelli- gence, researchers began reporting dramatic increases in IQ scores soon after World War II. The gains among children and young adults— the populations who take the tests—continued and even accelerated in the 1980s: an average increase of 24 points in the United States since 1918; 27 points in Britain since 1942; 22 points in Argentina since 1964; with gains of a similar size throughout Western Europe, Canada, Japan, China, Israel, Australia, and New Zealand. The total increase, roughly 30 points during the 20th century (about 3 points per decade), is so sub- stantial that if today’s IQ tests were scored on the scale used two or three generations ago the average child in 2017 would score in the gifted or near-genius range. And the young adults of yesteryear, if scored on today’s curve, would be at the borderline of “intellectually challenged.” The phenomenon of global IQ gains was named “the Flynn effect” for James Flynn of New Zealand’s University of Otago, whose 1987 paper analyzing them brought the increases → Are We Becoming Smart Fools? Sharon Begley is senior science writer with STAT, a national health and medicine publication. She is also author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain and Can’t Just Stop: An Investigation of Compulsions (2 017, Simon & Schuster). 20 mindful December 2017 Illustration by Edmon de Haro brain science