Educators educating Educators

Jul 21

Increasing IQs-Flynn Effect

“I was dyslexic, I had no understanding of schoolwork whatsoever.  I certainly would have failed IQ tests.  And it was one of the reasons I left school when I was 15 years old.  And if I – if I’m not interested in something, I don’t grasp it. ~ Richard Branson


“We shouldn't ask how smart you are but instead how you are smart.” ~ Howard Gardner


Peoples IQs are increasing: The Flynn Effect


The following is a paraphrased summary of a presentation given by Richard Nisbett titled Intelligence and How to Get It: Implications for Schools at the February 2010 The Leaning and Brain conference in San Francisco, CA.

Richard Nisbett on The Flynn Effect

The Flynn Effect is proof that dysgenesis (abnormal development) of genes is not prevalent and demonstrates that intelligence has markedly increasing from 1947 to 2002.

From 1947 to 2002

  1. 18 points gain in IQ
  2. 10-point gain in crystallized intelligence
  3. 20-point gain in fluid intelligence
  4. One full standard deviation gain on vocabulary by adults, this is a massive change
  5. 28 point gain on the Raven Progressive Matrix, an almost two standards deviation increase (30 IQ points) in intelligence

What does this mean for our understanding of what IQ is?

It is impossible that we’ve gained more than one standard deviation in actual intelligence in 55 years. But the increases are nevertheless real as measured on gains on skills tested by WISC.

What is causing it? No one is really sure. Computers are certainly a part of it but the gains have been going on a lot longer than computers were around.

The striking gains in the Flynn Effect probably something to do with the Industrial and Information Revolution that causes us to learn skills to deal with the demands of the environment. And no doubt, schools are a massive contributor to the gains.

Richard Nisbett is Theodore M. Newcomb Distinguished Professor of social psychology and co-director of the Culture and Cognition program at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Nisbett's research interests are in social cognition, culture, social class, and aging.


James Flynn


Discussion of the Flynn Effect

In the 1980s, New Zealand political scientists James R. Flynn, examined performance on standardized IQ tests over time. Flynn looked at more than 70 studies including a total of more than 7,500 participants between 1932 and 1978.

He analyzed the trends over time in the results recorded by almost everyone who’s been tested on entering the military from 1952 to 1982 in Israel, Norway, Belgium, Holland, England, and U.S. noting gains being made at almost exactly the same rate across the countries.

Flynn found that within each country, the average IQ scores were steadily higher for people who were born in later years – increasing by 3 points, or roughly 3 percent per decade.

What is so sensational about these finding is the degree of increment. In 60 years - that’s two generations - scores have risen by roughly one standard deviation. This means that an 18 year-old who scored the average for his cohort in 1990 would, if transported 60 years back in time, be among the highest-performing sixth. From being an average student in a class of 30, he would suddenly find himself in the top five.

Flynn Effect cartoon

Flynn Effect

Flynn Effect

What does all of this progress mean? Torkel Klingberg, in his new book The Overflowing Brain, states no one can say with any certainty to what the effect is attributable. He continues, “Now, most psychologists - including Flynn-believe that the increase in test scores reflects a genuine improvement in people’s ability to solve problems,” says Klingberg. He continues, “No single factor has been identified that can explain the Flynn effect. One fascinating possibility is that it is factors in our mental environments that account for much of the change. Could it be the case that the greater flow of information has a training effect and that ever-increasing mental demands are helping boosts people’s intelligences?”

It does not mean our brains are evolving, according to Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang, “because the Flynn effect has occurred steadily over just a few decades.” Instead, they suggest in their book Welcome to Your Brain, the IQ change may be attributed to “the effects of the environmental surrounding in which a person matures.” Factors such as “better nutrition and health” leading to better brain growth, and a “more stimulating environment may also enhance brain development and function.” Since humans “are highly social animals, these factors may be intensified by social interaction with other individuals who are also developmental accelerated, leading to positive feedback effect-and even more improved performance.” They go on to suggest that our brains are more sophisticated than they were a hundred years ago” due to “better nutrition and a more stimulating environment.”

A 9 minute video of James Flynn discussing the "Flynn Effect"


In case you get bored with the lazy days of summer and want to get a jump preparing for the coming school year, I added to Stuff4Educators a section called How to Study Better based on research from Harvard Medical School that highlights four science-backed ways towards better learning (Hint: drop the highlighter). Additionally, I posted a YouTube video under exercise from the Dana Foundation that won the Northwest Emmy award called Exercise and the Brain that explores the benefits of exercise on the brain and learning. Finally, some books that I have read this past year and found to be stimulating are listed.