We are inclined to read that the level of our intelligence depends on genes and education. However the world famous psychologist James Flynn told the correspondent of BBC Future that mental abilities of the person are influenced by a set of factors — up to the partner in life choice.
James Flynn is concerned by the fact that soon the Generation of Y will get the world (generation been born approximately after 1980 whose growing was the share of rapid development and the growing accessibility of digital technologies — the Comment of the translator).
To Flynn teaching at the New Zealand University Otago smart students regularly meet huge potential, but in actual fact it turns out that many of them aren’t interested in difficult history of our world at all.
“They are able to handle all these new technologies, but, nevertheless, leaving walls of university, differ in nothing from the medieval peasants locked in the tight world — Flynn says. — Actually their world is much more extensive, it is the world of the present, but all of them is equal in it are ungated as they don’t know historical measurement”.
As a result, according to professor, views of the younger generation of the current problems are too surface that leaves a big scope for manipulations them consciousness from politicians and media.
We talk in the son Flynn’s drawing room — Victor, the Oxford professor of mathematics whom the father came to visit from New Zealand.
On a sofa the opened book lies: Flynn Sr. reads the novel “Fugitive” of Alice Munro now. Reads as the literary critic — he tries on this role on himself in hope to tear off the younger generation from smartphones and to force to look at the world more widely.
“This year there is my book in which I speak to youth: devil take it, you are educated, so why you don’t read?” — Flynn says, recalling that at the time of his youth “girls refused an appointment to the guys not familiar with literary novelties”.
I agreed about a meeting with Flynn to talk about his recently published book under the name “Whether You Become Cleverer thanks to Your Family?” (Does Your Family Make You Smarter?). In it professor tells about how the human thinking changes eventually.
She mentions and a mysterious phenomenon of gradual increase in intelligence quotient (IQ) on the planet. Exactly thanks to opening of this phenomenon known now as “Flynn’s effect”, professor also gained the world fame.
Besides, in the new book various factors influencing development of intelligence throughout all our life are described.
Flynn to whom now 82 years, are big authority on area of researches of intelligence.
But, according to him, this career for it — no more than temporary hobby: “I am a specialist in moral philosophy who decided to change for a while it with psychology. It led to the fact that in the last 30 years a good few of my time left on occupations psychology”.
In philosophical searches of the nature of an objectivism Flynn came to consideration of approvals of rather intellectual superiority of one races over others.
Trying to find documentary evidences which confirmed or would confute this hypothesis, he unexpectedly found out that the average level of IQ of mankind in general, regardless of race, steadily increases approximately by three points in ten years.
To his surprise, except it practically nobody paid attention to it.
“I was struck that psychologists don’t exult about it” — Flynn says. It was talked of serious jumps in I.Q. — Dutches, for example, added the whole 20 points during the period from 1934 to 1964.
Nevertheless even those who carried out intelligence tests lost sight of this phenomenon. “They had results before a nose, but they just didn’t notice them”.
Psychologists knew for a long time that genes have significant effect on I.Q. and that their role only grows with age.
In kindergarten genetic features have no special value; at this age it is much more important for forming of the child that parents talked to him, read to it and trained in various skills — for example, the account.
Researches of couples of twins indicate that at preschool children genes are responsible approximately for 20% of distinctions in I.Q.
In process of a growing we begin to think independently, and parental influence on us weakens. We mostly spend time at school, and it forms our intelligence — depending on genetic potential.
Thanks to genetic predisposition we can find additional ways of stimulation of mind: to choose more intellectual occupations, to register in club of fans of books or to undergo selection in a class with profound studying of mathematics. And it, in turn, will increase our I.Q.
We gradually begin to create own niche reflecting our genetic potential. However, it does not mean that the family does not play any role in our development any more: the choice of school and the size of a home library have important value.
You should not underestimate and influence of random factors — loss of work or the personal tragedy can negatively affect the level of our intelligence.
However in general genes predetermine about 80% of intelligence of the adult.
And still growth of the IQ level described by Flynn’s effect was too bystry to write off it for genetic changes as evolutionary changes of genes take thousands of years.
So in what the reason? Psychologists stayed in confusion.
“They too got used to a thought that the intelligence changes very slowly, and just did not notice what happened at them before eyes” — Flynn says.
Actually the answer is not so difficult if to remember one parameter which is gradually changing within the last decades — our growth.
The thought that at high parents high children are born sounds quite logically — undoubtedly, it is work of genes.
However if to compare several generations, it will be found out that our growth considerably exceeds growth of our ancestors. And not because of changes in genes but because modern life with its high level of medicine and qualitative food gave us the chance to grow.
Flynn and his colleague William Dickens suggested that similar changes happen also to our intelligence because of growth of requirements imposed by society to mental capacities of the individual.
The intelligence test measures a number of parameters, such as the lexicon size, spatial thinking, a capability to abstract umopostroyeniye and classification of information.
In total these skills reflect “general I.Q.”. And though specially we to them aren’t taught, modern education pledges in us a capability to more abstract view of the world which helps us to get more points when passing the test for intelligence.
Elementary school learns to watch us at life through a prism of the natural phenomena and physical laws — we gradually begin to classify objects and the phenomena and to apply rules of logic. These capabilities are required in order that it is correct to answer many questions in the intelligence test.
Than more we accustom to watch children at the world through these “scientific points”, especially they are capable to gain high point, Flynn says: “Requirements of society to the individual change over time, and the person should adapt”.
But matter not only in education: according to some researchers, the modern high-technology world is arranged in such a way that we just can’t think differently.
Our great-great-grandfathers tried to cope with the typewriter, parents mastered the videorecorder, and children from the earliest age are able to use the touch screen.
To the person living in the beginning of the 20th century and perceiving the world very it is specific, it was very difficult to understand the abstract card of the London subway, Flynn says.
Technological progress forced us to think of categories of hierarchies and symbols, to learn to conform to the rules and to draw analogies — and we so got used to it that we can’t imagine what huge changes in thinking our present capabilities cost to mankind.
As a result all of us developed abstract thinking that led to increase in average intelligence quotient around the world at least on 30 points for the last century.
This growth optionally means that we began to use more effectively brain potential — it is not about “pumping” of powers of thinking, and about their podstraivaniye under requirements of the present.
However Flynn claims that this phenomenon has “sociological value” as reflects real changes in our thinking.
According to some information, based on Flynn’s effect, it is possible to predict, for example, growth of economy of this or that country.
“If benefits [from growth of IQ] had no practical consequences, it wouldn’t occur” — the scientist notes.
Flynn draws a parallel with physical exercises: the shape of our muscles depends on sport in which we are engaged: “A brain — the same muscle, and changes in nature of intellectual exercises influence it in the same way as if we ceased to do swimming and began to lift a bar”.
Important the fact that eventually the intelligence quotient can change. It means that elderly people are capable to keep clarity of mind, caring for the health (that directly influences intelligence) and actively being engaged in mental work that allows supports a brain in a good form as long as possible.
“Changes are so big that from the point of view of I.Q. today’s 70-year-old person just defeats the person of the same age of 15-year” — Flynn says.
In general growth rate of IQ makes about 11 points in a decade, he notes.
Flynn can be a good example of this process: “My father of years from 12 wasn’t engaged in physical exercises, and in 70 years retired. I lead much more active lifestyle and still I work”. As result — healthier brain and more active mind.
The new book of Flynn represents attempt to fill gaps in this hypothesis by means of a new analytical method: the factors influencing development of intelligence are considered in relation to the specific person and are estimated from the point of view of their influence on development of certain skills.
To take at least the section of the test for the intelligence measuring a lexicon. Life in the educated family using more rich language in life can promote development of the child even with a modest genetic potential.
Truly and the return: with a certain genetic potential its immediate environment is capable to drag the person to the intellectual swamp. It is enough to remember Lisa — the gifted girl from a cartoon serial of Simpsona by which don’t allow to be implemented completely.
Intellectual distinctions are rather small in order that most of us preferred not to pay attention to them, but Flynn’s analysis shows that even several additional points in the test for IQ are capable to predetermine all our further life.
So, for the capable child who is going to the American university, that fact that he grew up in a little more intellectual family can mean that it will gather in the SAT test (the standard test for acceptance in the American higher education institutions — the Comment of the translator) not 500, but 566 points. And it is a difference between prestigious and more mediocre educational institution.
“Universities interpret results of SAT as an indicator of ability of potential students to assimilation of the program of training in higher education institution” — Flynn explains.
“If your points are low, then won’t admit you to prestigious higher education institution — and even if will accept, then, most likely, you take off from there in the first year of training”.
Flynn isn’t inclined to pessimism: according to him, regardless of in what family we have grown up, all the same all of us have an opportunity to take own intellectual development in hand.
Researches show that the current circumstances of human life more influence the current I.Q., than his past.
It becomes obvious, it is worth looking at undergraduates of universities, Flynn says: “Many of them grew in the environment giving very limited opportunities for development of intelligence, but as soon as they have got to walls of higher education institution, their development has gone prompt rates”.
Young people like you read much less historical books and prefer much less serious fiction, than the previous generations
I ask how still it is possible to develop intelligence. “Choosing itself the satellite or the companion of life, you proceed not from appearance, and from this as far as he or she surpasses you intellectually” — professor advises.
“Thus you get access to the world of the new ideas, will meet a great number of interesting people, and it will make your life much more interestingly”.
What returns us to a subject of his concern about destiny of Generation of Y.
Flynn says that, despite increase in IQ, this generation squanders the intelligence on insignificant things.
“Don’t think that I grumble, but most of all I disturb the fact that young people like you read much less historical books and prefer much less serious fiction, than the previous generations”.
According to him, before forming own opinion on the current political events, it would be advisable to study thoroughly the factors influencing the course of world history in the past.
So, Flynn reproaches me for bad knowledge of history of Thirty years’ war in Europe in which, in his opinion, it is possible to find many parallels with the current Middle Eastern conflict. (His critic it is absolutely fair, and I promise to meet this lack in education.)