Are We Really Getting Smarter?

30/08/2016 11:20 | Updated 30 August 2016

I've been thinking about the world we live in right now and one of the things I often find myself wrestling with, is whether we - the generation of the 21st century - are collectively getting more intelligent or not?

If the data from recent IQ Test results is the measuring stick, then the answer will be a resounding 'Yes'.

The number of questions a typical person correctly answers in a standard test has consistently increased over time. As a result, testing companies have had to keep making the questions harder, in order to maintain the desired average of around 100.

So do better results in IQ exams mean we are becoming more intelligent?

I don't think so.

IQ tests have been used for decades to assess intelligence by examining mathematical skills, spatial recognition and short term memory - but they are fundamentally flawed because they do not take into account the complex nature of the human intellect and its differing elements.

In addition to this, surely EQ (our emotional quotient) is a significant component of our overall intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence can be defined as the ability to understand, manage, and effectively express one's own feelings, as well as engage and navigate successfully with those of others. People with a high emotional intelligence know how to use the poignant episodes in their lives to promote specific types of thinking. They are aware that angry people can be dangerous, happiness is usually shared in the company of others, and sad people may prefer to be alone.

Perhaps no aspect of EQ is more important than the ability to manage our own negative emotions, so they don't overwhelm us and affect our judgment.

I sometimes look around and question whether today's population manage their negative emotions well?

I'm not convinced.

I see more envy, aggression and schadenfreude nowadays than I can ever remember. Who had ever heard of the word "trolling" 15 years ago? - Today it's a regular thing.

We also seem to be taking shortcuts in almost every aspect of our lives. I believe this is causing a lack of awareness in both ourselves and each other.

This is a generation that primarily interacts through the use of devices - and as a consequence we are forgetting how to communicate face to face.

We have become so focussed on curating content to portray the image we want to sell to others, that we are losing our ability to observe the bigger picture. The obsession with building a 'personal brand' is limiting our capacity to recognise the things that are going on around us.

When we become too focussed on our own well-being, we lose all of the qualities that make us mammals.

So what does this have to do with emotional intelligence?

More than you may realise.

Emotional intelligence begins with self-awareness. When we develop this quality we become cognisant of our thoughts and feelings, unlocking the door to our interior landscape. This self-awareness inevitably leads us to awareness of others, and we are able to develop sympathy in its truest sense.

Emotional intelligence is something we gain by putting ourselves in the shoes of our fellow human beings on a regular basis. It requires taking 'personal gain' out of our encounters. It entails asking questions, trying to remain neutral, and simply listening to one another. This is also how one obtains empathy - another quality that is becoming rare, but that's for a different blog.

There is an old saying that states:

"Knowledge is having the right answer, whereas intelligence is asking the right question"

I think there's a lot of truth in that.

Perhaps it's time to put our devices down for a bit and replace some of our status updates and selfies with more genuine questions for each other.

Maybe then we can become a deeper, more intelligent generation.