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THE FLYNN EFFECT: Is the Global Crisis Due to the Lack of “Intellectual fuel”?

THE FLYNN EFFECT: Is the Global Crisis Due to the Lack of “Intellectual fuel”?
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Genes or culture – what really determines the level of our intelligence? And why is it so important to us? Everything seems to be clear with genes – natural selection has been working on them for millions of years. As a result, our genome received approximately 20,000 genes, of which a third work in the brain. Here they are, being inherited, and primarily determine our cognitive abilities.




According to modern research, a significant part of the variability in intelligence is explained by genetic differences between people. In small children it is 10–20%, and in adults it is 40–60%. The intelligence of adults is more influenced by genes, because, unlike infants, they themselves can choose the cultural environment that suits their inclinations.

Thus, the evolution of intelligence has not stopped – it changes both genetically and culturally. At the same time, the interconnection and mutual influence of cultural and genetic evolution are so strong that it is almost impossible to separate one from the other. As a result, the question arises: what happens to our intellect from generation to generation?




In the 1980s, New Zealand scientist James Robert Flynn studied this issue carefully and concluded that, on average, IQ scores in the human population increase over time.

The reasons for this phenomenon, which was called The Flynn Effect, the researchers associated with the fact that human thinking is “virtualized” – people have to solve more and more abstract, hypothetical problems. Over the past 75 years, from the point of view of knowledge, work and education in general have indeed become more difficult, which is what the Flynn effect has recorded.

Between 1932 and 1978, according to James Flynn, IQ rose by 13.8 points, about 3 points every decade. It is estimated that if this trend continues, then by 2300 the average intelligence will reach 200 – today it is considered a measure of genius.




However, the inquisitive human mind did not rest on this. Research into IQ dynamics continued after Flynn. In 2018, Norwegian researchers Bernt Bratsberg and Ole Rogeberg decided to measure the IQs of Norwegian men born between 1962 and 1991 who entered the military.

As a result, The Flynn Effect in reverse was discovered. Based on the results of 730,000 tests, the researchers found that the beginning of the downtrend was 1975. Whereas previous generations added an average of 0.3 points to IQ every year, since the mid-1970s, these figures have fallen on average by 7 points per generation.

However, the fact that “something is wrong” is happening to today’s youth began to be suspected long before the publication of the scientific works of Bratsberg and Rogeberg. In 2009, Flynn recorded a 2-point decline in IQ scores in 14-year-old British teenagers over 28 years.

Scientists suggest that these processes may be global in nature and they develop under the influence of modern culture – computer games, electronic media and social networks. The brain today needs to remember much less – all the information is on the Internet. Many tasks that had to be solved before become irrelevant. For example, written and oral counting, drawing skills, etc.


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Small consolation here can be the anthropological hypothesis, which claims that the mass of the brain of Homo sapiens and the level of IQ began to decline far from yesterday. Perhaps the processes of brain degradation last for thousands of years, and the farther our ancestors are from us, the smarter they are than us.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to test this hypothesis – it is impossible to obtain data at the time depth necessary for such a study. However, no matter how the world and the cultural environment around us change, evolution, which once gave birth to a reasonable person, most likely will not give up so easily.

Scientists point to the incredible neuroplasticity of the brain. It means that the usual methods of measuring the level of intelligence could become outdated. The brain is not actually “dull”, but modified.

Intelligence is not so much reduced as it becomes different, adapting to the requirements of modern realities. In 2011, psychologist Kathy Price studied the IQs of British teenagers and found 20-point variability.




There are a lot of factors that influence intelligence. Statistics say, for example, that children in large families are inferior in IQ to those who are the only or the second child in the family. Moreover, each subsequent child in a large family has a lower IQ than the previous one.

But this is explained not by the degradation of genes, but by upbringing – the first-born child receives much more developmental influences from his parents. Affects the development of intelligence and nutrition. And not so much quantity as quality.

In not the most well-fed years of World War II, the growth of intelligence among Europeans did not slow down. But modern products can be much more dangerous than malnutrition. So, it has been proven that the exclusion from the diet of sweet soda, which our children love so much, leads to an increase in school performance.




There is another important aspect that Flynn draws attention to. He is convinced that the growth of the economy is directly related to the presence of a sufficient amount of “intellectual fuel” in the population. Financial or energy resources alone are not enough for this.

Accordingly, the economic crisis of our time can be associated with a global decline in the “intellectual bar”. The New Zealand scientist points out that trillions of dollars have already been spent by governments and central banks to extinguish the global fire.

But there was no radical improvement in the socio-economic situation. And it could not follow, because the money was pumped to the wrong place. The scientist is convinced that people can get out of the crisis by strengthening the focus of development on education and science. In order to meet the challenges of the time, one cannot do without investments in a rational mindset, in “intellectual fuel”.


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