Notes on the Flynn Effect

The Flynn Effect theory suggests that the IQ scores of the general population are rapidly increasing over time. With more researches being conducted, it’s believed that the Flynn Effect has already ended and has gone into reverse. This is an overview with more information to help you understand the Flynn effect theory, some causes and how the IQ scores once rose and have started declining now with the use of technology.

What is the Flynn Effect?

Flynn Effect is a theory that describes how over the last sixty years there has been a substantial rise in the IQ scores of the general population. James Flynn, a social scientist at the University of Otago, in New Zealand, documented this in 1984 and wrote a variety of academic books on it.

The first question that comes to our brain is “why? what’s the reason behind this?” James Flynn lists several explanations to explain this but the major ones are based on how health, nutrition and education have improved. Even the more developed IQ testing system could be a reason. The education system is conducting frequent tests to make the younger generations more familiar with the competitive environment. The curriculum is constantly developing making the human IQs better and better.

The Rise in IQ Scores

The rise is intriguing because it occurred in those tests that aren’t easy to learn. The verbal intelligence has remained relatively flat but the non-verbal scores continue to rise. The figures could not be overlooked because it’s massive. In a 2013 TED talk Flynn mentions that “We don’t just get a few more questions right on I.Q. tests. We get far more questions right on I.Q. tests than each succeeding generation back to the time that they were invented. Indeed, if you score the people a century ago against modern norms, they would have an average I.Q. of 70. If you score us against their norms, we would have an average I.Q. of 130.”

Recently, the new evidence shows something that’s been coming from the opposite end. A reverse of the Flynn Effect is being observed in certain locations which leads to a decline in the IQ score of the population. Currently, this has been named the ‘Negative Flynn Effect.’ Nine reports have been found suggesting this in seven countries across the world. The major causes being immigration, maternal age, sex ratio and Dysgenics. A literature review from 2016 mentions that “There are a number of limitations to this analysis. Ideally, in order to establish and understand the causes of the negative Flynn Effect, we need large samples, annual cohorts over a longer period of time, and, where possible, the ability to rule out potential confounding factors such as sex and immigration.”

Why did the Flynn Effect happen?

The education system and technique play an important role in the intelligence value of common people. The manner in which children are being evaluated presently is more developed and holistic. Flynn writes about the questions the state of Ohio gave to 14-year-olds in 1910 were about socially valued concrete information. They were things like, what are the capitals of the 44 or 45 states that existed at that time? But when they looked at the exams of the state in 1900, they were all about abstractions. They were things like, why is the largest city of a state rarely the capital?

Another reason that contributes to the Flynn effect is the generally more stimulating environment. Learners these days are supposed to read books and watch movies like Harry Potter and derive sense out of them whereas they were just means of entertainment in the older times. Information is more widely available. People are having diverse interests which promote curiosity and leads to more learning. With the use of technology, knowledge is easy to consume through visual and audio forms which weren’t necessarily available in the past as it is today. The brain has a short term capacity to learn things. In the earlier times, people memorized information for learning but these days, schools are focusing more on making learners know the reasoning to consolidate it for long-term memory.

A popular example Flynn gives is the question, What do a dog and a rabbit have in common? A modern respondent might say they are both mammals whereas someone a century ago might have said that humans catch rabbits with dogs. People were pragmatic back a century ago. They weren’t interested in hypotheticals or in classifying things together.

Lastly, nutrition and healthcare improved and resulted in better IQ scores. The fewer members a family has, the better nutrition the children get. The nutritional improvement affects their intelligence positively and equally, which would be reflected in an overall mean IQ change. Wikipedia explains this by stating, “Today’s average adult from an industrialized nation is taller than a comparable adult of a century ago. That increase of stature, likely the result of general improvements in nutrition and health, has been at a rate of more than a centimetre per decade. Available data suggest that these gains have been accompanied by analogous increases in head size, and by an increase in the average size of the brain.”

The Reverse of Flynn Effect

People weren’t mentally retarded back in 1900. They were able to perfectly adapt to the circumstances they had, they could earn a living and you’ll probably not even able to comprehend the information in their 8th-grade textbook as it was so complicated. They were able to achieve great things in their circumstances which we can’t despite having the equipment.

But intelligence has adapted over time, we can tackle problems better today because we know more (because of them). Flynn Effect did happen and the IQ has definitely evolved if not increased. The question is, is it still happening? Are we still getting smarter and smarter?

It’s predicted that the Flynn Effect might have stopped in the 21st Century. More researches are being conducted about its reverse or the so-called “Negative Flynn Effect”. The Flynn effect theory was proposed in 1984 and technology has developed immensely in the last two decades.

While discussing the Negative Flynn Effect, Will Conaway wrote, “Technology is changing our concept of time, and we are getting the brunt of the abuse. There’s an expectation to solve problems at the same speed as clicking through websites. Additionally, the amount of information online can give those working on a project a false sense of expertise; they read a few lines on a blog and often take action in the wrong direction.”

Albert Einstein famously said, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” With many new distractions that didn’t exist back then, there’s no guarantee if we will keep getting smarter and if it will keep rising (or decline) in future.