IQ on the up as pupils get less literal

12th January 2007 at 00:00
TODAY'S CHILDREN are more intellectual than their parents and grandparents, according to an academic whose findings contradict the conventional wisdom that society is dumbing down. While pupils' ability in maths and vocabulary has remained more or less static, their capacity for reasoning and logic has dramatically improved, says Professor James Flynn, of Otago University in New Zealand.

He presented his findings at a seminar in Cambridge. He showed that year-on-year rises in IQ scores - known as the "Flynn Effect" - were down to improvements in abstract thinking rather than increases in overall intelligence.

"When we look at those older than us, they are not any less intelligent.

But we may see they are a little more literal and rule-bound, more utilitarian, that they look more at the concrete and less at the abstract and hypothetical," Professor Flynn told his audience at Cambridge Assessment's Psychometrics Centre.

The promotion of the national curriculum, the expansion of schooling, the increasing importance of science and logic in Western society and the popularity of demanding leisure pursuits were all influences, he said.

"Some people think you can see this in TV," he continued. "Thanks to the rise in mental ability, producers are having to provide more complex plot lines.

"Years ago you had I Love Lucy, which was a few characters and pure escapism. Now 24 has many characters and 10 sub-plots. Shows are rising to a new level of expectation."

But vocabulary had not significantly improved because children lived in a more visual culture, Professor Flynn said. Average IQs have increased by roughly half a point every year in the industrialised world since testing began. His findings were based on more than 100 years of IQ tests, challenging candidates to spot patterns and groupings.

Researchers posing the question "What is the similarity between a dog and rabbit?" almost a century ago were likely to receive literal answers such as "There aren't any" or "Dogs eat rabbits". But children today were more likely to give what was considered the best answer: "They are both mammals."

Professor Flynn said that IQ gains were likely to level off as affluence and family sizes stabilised. But they would probably be replaced by an improvement in different forms of reasoning.

"It's not so much a rise in intelligence as an investment of intelligence in new problems," he said.

His findings will appear in a book, What is intelligence beyond the Flynn effect?, to be published in July.

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number


The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now