IQ and the 4th Industrial Revolution

James Flynn, the author and namesake of the Flynn effect, published a new paper investigating recent losses in worldwide IQ. Fewer and fewer people can think in terms of abstractions and develop their capacity for deductive logic and systematic planning. At the same time, according to the World Economic Forum, complex problem solving has become the foremost needed skill for the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Flynn writes: “Until very recently, we have enjoyed a more favorable ratio of adults to children in the home, more and better schooling, more cognitively demanding jobs, and better health and conditions of the aged. These caused large IQ gains for several generations.”

The current picture: There are IQ losses in Nordic nations averaging 6.85 IQ points when projected over thirty years. There are also losses in Britain, while the US continues to gain 0.3 IQ points per year and South Korea gains twice the US rate. Germany shows a loss of spatial intelligence. In the Netherlands, IQ changes vary by age: There is no change in preschoolers, there are mild losses at high school, and gains by adults.

Flynn wites that “fewer and fewer people attain the formal level at which they can think in terms of abstractions and develop their capacity for deductive logic and systematic planning”. Why ist that? Flynn discusses a range of possible reasons, but what stands out as an issue is the connection between skill demands and IQ development.

A decline in IQ is especially troubling when we look at the demands of the coming economy. Last year, the World Economic Forum published its list for the top 10 skills for the 4th Industrial Revolution:

  1. Complex Problem Solving
  2. Critical Thinking
  3. Creativity
  4. People Management
  5. Coordinating with Others
  6. Emotional Intelligence
  7. Judgement and Decision Making
  8. Service Orientation
  9. Negotiation
  10. Cognitive Flexibility

Interestingly, it is the technology of the 4th Industrial Revolution which contributes to make the human skills it needs more rare. As our digital machines and devices get smarter and make more decisions for us, economy produces fewer cognitively demanding jobs. With less cognitively demanding jobs, IQ will fall further. Flynn: “During the 21st century, if society reduces its skill demands, IQ will fall.”

Read more about the role of design in this phenomenon in my article here.