Want a higher I.Q. Hint: Start Playing Grand Theft Auto...

Why I don't think like Char....

Rising trend line in intelligence test scores. And that, in turn, suggested that something in the environment - some social or cultural force - was driving the trend.

FROM WIRED - "The best example of brain-boosting media may be videogames. Mastering visual puzzles is the whole point of the exercise - whether it's the spatial geometry of Tetris, the engineering riddles of Myst, or the urban mapping of Grand Theft Auto."

Twenty-three years ago, an American philosophy professor named James Flynn discovered a remarkable trend: Average IQ scores in every industrialized country on the planet had been increasing steadily for decades. Despite concerns about the dumbing-down of society - the failing schools, the garbage on TV, the decline of reading - the overall population was getting smarter. And the climb has continued, with more recent studies showing that the rate of IQ increase is accelerating. Next to global warming and Moore's law, the so-called Flynn effect may be the most revealing line on the increasingly crowded chart of modern life - and it's an especially hopeful one. We still have plenty of problems to solve, but at least there's one consolation: Our brains are getting better at problem-solving.

But something else in the data caught his eye. Every decade or so, "Every time kids took the new and the old tests, they did better on the old ones," Flynn says. "I thought: That's weird."
Flynn dug up every study that had ever been done in the US where the same subjects took a new and an old version of an IQ test. "And lo and behold, when you examined that huge collection of data, it revealed a 14-point gain between 1932 and 1978."

The classic heritability research paradigm is the twin adoption study: Look at IQ scores for thousands of individuals with various forms of shared genes and environments, and hunt for correlations.

This is the sort of chart you get, with 100 being a perfect match and 0 pure randomness:
The same person tested twice: 87
Identical twins raised together: 86
Identical twins raised apart: 76
Fraternal twins raised together: 55
Biological siblings: 47
Parents and children living together: 40
Parents and children living apart: 31
Adopted children living together: 0
Unrelated people living apart: 0

What part of our allegedly dumbed-down environment is making us smarter?
It's not schools, since the tests that measure education-driven skills haven't shown the same steady gains. It's not nutrition - general improvement in diet leveled off in most industrialized countries shortly after World War II, just as the Flynn effect was accelerating.
"And then I realized that society has priorities. Let's say we're too cheap to hire good high school math teachers. So while we may want to improve arithmetical reasoning skills, we just don't. On the other hand, with smaller families, more leisure, and more energy to use leisure for cognitively demanding pursuits, we may improve - without realizing it - on-the-spot problem-solving, like you see with Ravens."

When you take the Ravens test, you're confronted with a series of visual grids, each containing a mix of shapes that seem vaguely related to one another. Each grid contains a missing shape; to answer the implicit question posed by the test, you need to pick the correct missing shape from a selection of eight possibilities. To "solve" these puzzles, in other words, you have to scrutinize a changing set of icons, looking for unusual patterns and correlations among them.

This is not the kind of thinking that happens when you read a book or have a conversation with someone or take a history exam. But it is precisely the kind of mental work you do when you, say, struggle to program a VCR or master the interface on your new cell phone.

Over the last 50 years, we've had to cope with an explosion of media, technologies, and interfaces, from the TV clicker to the World Wide Web. And every new form of visual media - interactive visual media in particular - poses an implicit challenge to our brains: We have to work through the logic of the new interface, follow clues, sense relationships. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these are the very skills that the Ravens tests measure - you survey a field of visual icons and look for unusual patterns.

The ultimate test of the "cognitively demanding leisure" hypothesis may come in the next few years, as the generation raised on hypertext and massively complex game worlds starts taking adult IQ tests. This is a generation of kids who, in many cases, learned to puzzle through the visual patterns of graphic interfaces before they learned to read. Their fundamental intellectual powers weren't shaped only by coping with words on a page. They acquired an intuitive understanding of shapes and environments, all of them laced with patterns that can be detected if you think hard enough. Their parents may have enhanced their fluid intelligence by playing Tetris or learning the visual grammar of TV advertising.

But that's child's play compared with Pokmon.

Intellectual breakthroughs are what happen when you're busy making other plans. (J.Lennon)