Where is the development of intelligence going?

Flynn effectIntelligence peak reached we become again dumber

In the past, people's intelligence increased from decade to decade. The Flynn Effect. For a few years now, researchers have noticed the opposite trend: our IQ isn't just stagnating - it's decreasing.

New Zealand psychologist James Flynn was the first to discover in the 1980s that the average intelligence quotient (IQ) increases by three points every ten years.

Neuroscientist Henning Beck explains that scientists had to make the questions of the IQ tests even more difficult over the years so that the average person lands at an average of 100 points. In fact, a hundred years ago people weren't more stupid; it is much easier for us to solve IQ tasks today, says Henning Beck.

Mysterious Flynn effect

It is still unclear how the Flynn effect came about. The reasons could be better nutrition and schooling. Scientists also suspect that we think more abstractly today than previous generations because our world has changed a lot. These new thinking skills are useful for solving IQ tests. For example, we can see patterns much faster. The scientists at the University of Vienna believe that we have trained our vision well in this regard due to the daily flood of images.

"Intelligence is not something that I can simply measure like body size. You cannot be absolutely intelligent, you can only be relatively better."
Henning Beck, neuroscientist

Why this increase in intelligence has reached its limits in the last few years and is even reversed is just as mysterious as the Flynn effect itself, says Henning Beck. The scientists from the University of Vienna have shown in a study that the Flynn effect exists across several countries. But since 1998 the average IQ value has dropped by 2 points. This negative Flynn effect has been shown in studies in Denmark, Norway and England.

Declining IQ in Norwegian men

In their study, the economist Bernt Bratsberg and the political scientist Ole Rogeberg from the Frisch Center in Oslo compared the data of over 800,000 Norwegian men who were born between 1962 and 1991 and who had to take a standardized intelligence test when they were drafted into the military. The result: The IQ not only stagnated. He goes back from the 1975 birth cohort.

The causes of the Flynn effect are unclear

The reason for this is just as unclear. It may be due to the changed diet, education or media consumption, says Henning Beck. What the scientists rule out with certainty is a genetic change as the cause. It is very unlikely that a genetic change will show up in such a short period of time in a broad population.

More about the Flynn effect at Deutschlandfunk Nova:

  • Negative Flynn effect: are we getting more and more stupid? | Finns are annoying. They are the nerds of Europe: the best school system, the best PISA results and they even have the shortest response times. But: They don't get any smarter. Does this also apply to the rest of Europe - are we getting more and more stupid?
  • Flynn Effect: smarter than a hundred years ago | We are much smarter than our ancestors a hundred years ago. At least we are smarter than we used to be when it comes to IQ tests, say scientists. However, we have already passed the zenith.
  • Negative Flynn effect: IQ decreases in younger people | Since researchers have regularly measured the intelligence quotient (IQ) in various societies, it has risen continuously. The IQ rose by almost 3 points every ten years. This positive development was first noticed by the New Zealand psychologist James Flynn, who was named after him: the Flynn effect.