If People are Getting Smarter, Why Are Nations Getting Dumber?

By Shlomo  Maital     


 James Robert Flynn is a New Zealand scholar whose research discovered a phenomenon now named after him, the “Flynn effect”:     “the substantial and long-sustained increase in intelligence test scores measured in many parts of the world from roughly 1930 to the present day.”     

    When intelligence quotient (IQ) tests are initially standardized using a sample of test-takers, by convention the average of the test results is set to 100 and their standard deviation is set to 15 or 16 IQ points. When IQ tests are revised, they are again standardized using a new sample of test-takers, usually born more recently than the first. Again, the average result is set to 100. However, when the new test subjects take the older tests, in almost every case their average scores are significantly above 100.  

  Flynn published his findings in 1987 *  and since then has written articles and books on it.   In a recent book, Flynn noted that for the first time, women have pulled ahead of men in IQ! 

   Let’s suppose that people really ARE smarter than they once were.   What’s the problem with that?   What bothers me is,  if people are smarter, why are nations dumber?  Why do we have the EU debacle, the Irish, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and Greek crisis, the global financial collapse, Iraq, Afghanistan, Rwanda, the Mideast conflict, the Congo, Zimbabwe, the Arab spring-turned-to-winter…?  If we’re so smart, why do we act so dumbly as nations?

    One of the world’s leading psychologists Robert Sternberg has weighed in on the Flynn effect.  He makes two key points.  First, what we lack is not problem-solving intelligence, but ethical intelligence.  The global financial crisis was engineered by super-smart bankers and financial wizards with zero ethics.  Second, what we lack is not IQ but wisdom – the way to use that IQ that truly benefits humanity.  Sternberg’s model is called WISC, which says that to succeed, we need four elements: Wisdom, Intelligence, Systems Thinking and Creativity.  Intelligence alone won’t do the job. 

* James Flynn.  (1987)   “Massive IQ gains in 14 nations: What IQ tests really measure”. Psychological Bulletin 101: 171–191