Our ancestors were pretty stupid compared to our own children, who are definitely getting smarter.
We already know that this learning curve has risen significantly in the last 200 years, and really shot up since the early 1950’s.
The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) first came into use in 1947 and is still widely used today. The WISC test’s ten subtests measure various cognitive skills, including vocabulary, storage of information, arithmetic and the ability to solve various mathematical and practical problems. What becomes obvious, when the results of these tests are looked at in any detail, is that children who score highly on one type of subtest, are likely to excel on others, if not all of them.
But this is by no means the full story, because the type of intelligence measured by Wechsler has changed considerably. Let’s take a simple example and ask some children a question. “What do rabbits and dogs have in common?” A child from the 1950’s would probably reply that dogs are used to hunt rabbits, whereas a child of the new millennium would be more likely to simply say they were both mammals. This is a perfect example of how technology and the resulting changes in society have influenced perception. Of course if you were to ask the same question of a child from certain far-eastern countries, the answer might be that they both taste delicious.
But I digress… What is important here is not that the 21st century child views rabbits and dogs as being part of the mammal family, but that the similarity no longer has importance. What is of concern to the 21st century child, is which is more useful and under one’s control. Our ancestors however, were no less intelligent when it came to rabbits and dogs, it’s just that their intelligence was directed along different lines and had its feet firmly set upon everyday reality. In strict psychological terms, it is the inability to cope with everyday life that marks people out as suffering from mental illness. This indicator of mental illness (one of many) is worthy of note for the professional hypnotherapist or NLP practitioner, and for obvious reasons. You might find one day that you are suddenly and unexpectedly playing with fire.
In today’s disposable society, WISC subtests that include the ability to mend clothes or darn socks are irrelevant. Conversely, we have become more adept at finding ways to solve new and more complex problems, particularly in the fields of science and technology – in other words, we have learned new ways around previously learned rules.
It started with the industrial revolution in the late 19th century and continued throughout the 20th century when survival meant increased years at school if one was to achieve one’s aspirations. When high school diplomas became the norm, more people wanted degrees and now that degrees are being handed out like confetti (there are now degrees in tourism and travel for instance) more and more people desire PhD’s, and some people will do anything to have one, as we shall see in a later chapter.
Economic progress has produced a generation of middle-class parents who now have higher expectations of their children’s academic success. As a result, these parents spend time providing more cognitively challenging activities for their children to enjoy. All this pushes the intelligence average higher.
But! Shock Horror! This increase in intelligence has done absolutely nothing to inoculate people against credulity! If anything, people are even more stupid now that they have disposable income than they were when their primary concern was where the next meal was coming from. It is astonishing the number of people who pay over large amounts of money to widows of Nigerian businessmen who wish to deposit millions of dollars into their bank accounts for a small ‘release fee’ of just a few thousand pounds, followed by another few thousand pounds, until the target of this increasingly popular scam either gives up or goes bankrupt.
This credulity, which, it has to be admitted, does go hand in hand with suggestion, is part and parcel of why so many people have bought books which promise to make them thin, or even more outrageous, rich. Still, if they weren’t buying get rich quick books, they would probably be buying Professor Frotteur’s Guaranteed System for winning at the casino or the racetrack. The only people who get rich from those books are the people that wrote them. And yet still they fly off the shelves…
Nonetheless, the language of better educated human beings has also endowed those same humans with greater understanding of the world as well as more complex language skills. That, at least, has enhanced critical acumen somewhat.
The most positive gain has been the ability to think on one’s feet, rather than rely solely on a set of rules and reduced family sizes. The obvious point here is that a family with two children will have a more pleasant existence than a family with fourteen children – more disposable income, better education, and better prospects, despite anything the Pope might say to the contrary. Reduced family size means that parents have more time to answer the unending questions (particularly the eternal question, Why?) posed by their offspring. Enhanced problem-solving skills and spatial awareness skills for example, have seen that chess grand masters as well as inventors, writers (the list is endless) are getting younger.
TV programmes are much more complex today than they were in the days when the best thing ever was the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show. In the 1960’s and 70’s (the so-called golden age of television) most programmes were self-contained episodes that could be repeated in no particular order. Compare episodes of police dramas from the golden age to the crime series of today. The new ones are far more complicated in terms of character development, interweaving storylines that arch over not just episodes, but seasons, and the complexity of the information contained in just one storyline.
Copyright Andrew Newton 2000. All rights reserved.