Are We Becoming Morally Smarter?

Flynn and his colleague William Dickens suggest that the increases in reasoning abilities may have started centuries ago with the industrial revolution, which required certain cognitive abilities not needed in a predominantly agricultural society. The manipulation of composite machinery, coupled to the migration to cities with their more complex and cosmopolitan cultures, may have launched the effect. But, Flynn says, it really took off after 1950, when “IQ gains show a new and peculiar pattern. They are missing or small on the kind of IQ tests closest to school-taught material like reading and arithmetic. They are huge on tests that emphasize on-the-spot problem-solving, like seeing what verbal abstractions have in common, or finding the missing piece of a Matrices pattern, or making a pattern out of blocks, or arranging pictures to tell a story. Perhaps the industrial revolution stopped demanding progress in the basics and started demanding that people take abstract problem-solving more seriously.” That makes sense. In 1900, Flynn says, only 3 percent of Americans had cognitively demanding jobs-professional occupations in management, medicine, the law, and the like. That figure climbed to 35 percent by 2000 and continues ever upward.

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