The Flynn Effect

Kirsten Soelling

Evidence of cognitive change is everywhere: you would never have found an abstract map of the New York Subway when it first opened in 1904.  

Evidence of cognitive change is everywhere: you would never have found an abstract map of the New York Subway when it first opened in 1904.  

Ever heard of the Flynn Effect? Over the last century, IQs across the world have substantially risen at a rate too fast to attribute to evolution. Professor James Flynn’s research from thirty years ago suggests a much stronger link to environmental conditions, such as improved global health and large-scale modernization.

Modernization is where the Flynn Effect gets really interesting. Shifts in the cognitive demands of our society act as catalysts for intelligence. Technology has propelled us from a literal world to a much more abstract one, requiring us to develop new mental habits—classification, abstractions, hypotheticals. How does our advancing cognitive development affect the ways in which we communicate?

 

We process visual concepts faster than ever.

Ask your audience to flex their abstract brain power by representing concepts through imagery. Visual communication of ideas triggers a unique analytical process and can also improve recall. Pee-wee Herman simplifies it nicely: “Take a picture, it’ll last longer.”
 

How do you visualize virtual networking? There must be a balance between concrete details and concept.

How do you visualize virtual networking? There must be a balance between concrete details and concept.

 

We use logic on abstraction.

Use analogies and metaphors as a tool to help your audience draw valuable connections between your key concepts and their own scenarios. You shouldn’t need to use literal context for customers; their brains will trace the logical relationship that best fits the situation.

Analogies are a great tool for making associations with broader concepts like value.

Analogies are a great tool for making associations with broader concepts like value.

 

We take the hypothetical seriously.

There’s a lot of power in using hypotheticals—it’s an easy way to stimulate problem solving analysis, plus you can design the set of conditions that the brain will temporarily assume to be true. When your audience applies logic to the set conditions it’s the outcome they remember, not the context.

Exploring hypotheticals is a unique cognitive exercise that can substantially improve analytical understanding.

Exploring hypotheticals is a unique cognitive exercise that can substantially improve analytical understanding.

 

What can you do to nurture your cognitive fitness?

Flynn himself is pretty worried about the wasted potential of our smartest generation yet. “They have all these modern skills and yet they come out of university no different than the medieval peasant who is anchored in his own little world,” he says of millennials.

Flynn thinks that we tend to approach current issues without considering context beyond our own experience or awareness. This results in an overly simplistic view and doesn’t do your brain any favors when it comes to problem solving.

Seeking intellectual challenges is the answer. Not obvious at all, right? Engage in conversation with people who will introduce new perspectives, ideas, or information. The key is pushing one another to test your intellect. Flynn thinks it’s most vital that we read literature and history to broaden our conceptual lexicon: “I’m not being gloomy but actually the major intellectual thing that disturbs me is that young people like you are reading less history and less serious novels than you used to.”

Connecting history, literature, philosophy, and other humanities to our current experience is one of the most valuable ways you can improve your IQ. Because of the Flynn Effect, we have the greatest potential to derive valuable problem solving tools from these precious resources. We should be learning as much as we can from the past. In one of the driest TED talks we’ve ever seen, Flynn claims that were we all better read on military history, we might have easily avoided recent conflict. There he goes with the hypotheticals again…

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Kirsten Soelling
Contributor

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