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The Reverse “Flynn effect” and Its Consequences: Are We Getting Dumber?

Océane Rajerison


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In recent decades, scientists seem to agree that there has been a global decline in human intellect. When researchers first detected this phenomenon, they came up with the dysgenic fertility theory, suggesting that individuals with consistently lower intelligence quotients produce, on average, more offspring than “intelligent” people. This theory was later proven false when scientists found intellectual differences within the same families.

To find an alternate explanation, they researched the past trends regarding shifts in average human intelligence, namely the “Flynn effect.” The phenomenon occurred during the 20th century and was caused by greater overall access to education, according to psychologist Stuart Ritchie, who specialised in cognitive aging at the University of Edinburgh. It is then likely that the reverse effect observed today is also caused by external factors. This theory makes sense, as the observed decline in intelligence appeared when we started to provide ourselves with innovations facilitating convenience in everyday life instead of letting people adjust themselves. It is related to both technology and education.

With recent inventions and breakthroughs, it is hard to believe that human intelligence is rapidly decreasing. Yet, these technological advancements have directly fed into an environment that is harmful to the brain and its functioning, including cognitive skills. The development of cell phones shows how people increasingly find comfort in multitasking which, contrary to beliefs, does not help the brain pay attention to various things but prevents complete focus. Instead of discouraging this yearning for multitasking, teachers incorporate it into their classes. Some allow their students to listen to music as they work, while others allow the cell phones to stay on the desk, despite the distraction. They do not understand that they are not effective because they are blinded by the illusion of being efficient as the distraction makes time feel shorter and faster. Not only are they not able to give their undivided attention to their education, but they also risk not being capable of doing otherwise in an environment with different regulations, like a future workplace. Even then, certain academic programs, as well as several lines of work, are becoming less and less intellectually demanding to, once again, adapt to the current reduced level of concentration in the general population.

Even a simple device like a calculator contributes to reducing the effort of thinking. Children get used to it in high school and later struggle to count the change the cashier owes them. The issue begins early on, since “too many children enter school ill-prepared to master literacy and numeracy skills,” according to the Vancouver Sun. Access to education might be better, but the quality of learning is not. Today, passing has become more important, regardless of the skills a child acquires or is missing. Le Journal de Montréal recently reported that last year, the 60% passing grade of a ministerial final maths examination was lowered to 55% due to failure in 80% of Québec’s educational facilities. A teacher shared that the exam was easy as it only covered the basics. Despite this, the current system has not offered any explanation as to how so many secondary four students could not comprehend mathematics basics.

Where is this leading? This issue goes beyond individual performance; it affects us as a society. With fewer students being able to pursue superior education and institutions struggling to find a middle ground to mitigate this decline in academic ability, our development will slow down. We risk having fewer scientific discoveries like cures to diseases or answers to the climate crisis. Worse, we may observe an increasing rate of unemployment, eventually resulting in economic stagnation. In order to face these real-life obstacles, it is necessary to be accustomed to challenges, especially intellectual challenges, because critical thinking is required to take action.



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