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1-s2.0-S0160289616300988-gr2_lrg (1)

The picture shows that working memory for simple repetition (Forwards Digit Span, Forward Corsi Blocks) has increased slightly over 43 years, whilst working memory for the more complicated task of items in reverse order (Backwards Digit Span, Backwards Corsi Blocks) has fallen slightly.

Digit span is a bombshell of a test. Despite being very brief and simple to administer, it is a true ratio measure (in the SS Stevens sense, with a real zero) of how many digits you can repeat forwards and backwards. Consider it a test of whether you can remember a brief instruction, at least long enough to repeat it; and whether you can hold items in your short-term memory long enough to manipulate them. It is difficult to function well without those capabilities. The first (digits forwards) is mere repetition, but useful. Repeated instructions serve as a guide to action. The second (digits backwards) is basic data management, which is much more useful, though a more demanding task. It is analogous to being able to reconstruct a disassembled system or device. On a broader front, short term memory is a good test of racial differences in ability, since it has minimal cultural content but identifies processing power bottlenecks.

If we have really been getting smarter over the years, as the Flynn Effect suggests, then those scores should be going up as fast as any other subtest scores. Not so. The result is either No Change (as argued by Gignac) or small improvements in digit forwards and small decrements in digits backwards (as argued by Woodley).

Woodley argues that general ability is falling because of dysgenic effects, but also becoming more specialized, which he calls the Co-Occurrence model. Should it be called “Duller but specialized”?

How do these theories fare in the light of a massive new meta-analysis?

By the way, just in case you think this is some terrible battle, Flynn is no more tied to the Flynn Effect than Woodley is tied to the Woodley Effect. Charles Murray named both those effects, the first to sum up a long series of findings about rising intelligence test scores, starting with Rundquist (1936); the latter in an email exchange with me as I was telling him about the first results of Woodley’s research on Victorian reaction times. Charles Murray wondered how psychology would reconcile these contrary trends: the paper to be described is part of that long-term process.

Having conversations and meals with both Flynn and Woodley for several days in Montreal was a real pleasure. They and the wider group discussed trends in intelligence, including finding Flynn’s alarm about falling competence on Piagetian tasks. In addition, Jim Flynn confirmed to me that he had said in one of his books (he thought in 2012) that no-one was researching genetic causes of racial differences in intelligence “because they feared finding something”. Later I will post about Flynn’s view of the falling scores on Piagetian tasks.

Anyway, back to working memory, or short-term memory as it used to be called. The paper is massive in scope, has more study samples than previous publications on this topic, is extremely large with circa 140,000 subjects and is also a massive confirmation of Woodley’s reworking of Gignac’s data, on a far larger scale. It seems that over the last 43 years we have become able to repeat a bit more but manipulate a bit less. We can echo more, and analyze less.

Of course, there is another way of measuring short term memory, and thus to give pleasure to multiple intelligence believers. You can tap a series of objects in a particular sequence, and then ask the subject to tap them in the same sequence. This can be done forwards and backward, as with digits. This is the Corsi block span (1972) task, which I find difficult to give, let alone to observe and score. Nonetheless, it is a useful measure of spatial short-term memory, which is an important skill. So, one can test short term memory in two different modalities, to see if there is a real general effect, at the central rather than peripheral level.

The Flynn effect for verbal and visuospatial short-term and working memory: A cross-temporal meta-analysis

Peera Wongupparaj, Rangsirat Wongupparaj, Veena Kumaria, Robin G. Morris

This is a very detailed study, based on the real scores, not the scale totals, and corrected for age, sex, and the wealth of the countries of origin, which might affect nutritional status. Women did better on digits, men on blocks.

In a good, wide-ranging introduction to the topic, Wongupparaj and colleagues cover the Flynn Effect and Woodley’s co-occurrence model. Forward spans increase over the four decades of study (digits by r=0.12 and blocks by r= 0.10); backward spans decrease (digits by r=−0.06 and blocks by r=−0.17). The authors sum up their findings thus:

The gain on the verbal and visuospatial STM tasks (i.e. FDS and FCB) and decline on the verbal and visuospatial WM tasks (i.e. BDS and BCB) are consistent with the co-occurrence model (Woodley of Menie & Fernandes, 2015). Based on this model, it is predicted that less g-loaded measures should show arise, whereas more g-loaded measures may show the opposite trend as shown in the studies by Gignac (2015) and Woodley of Menie and Fernandes (2015).

The authors add that the increase on the less g loaded forwards conditions suggests environmental causes including practice effects, while the decrease on the more g loaded backwards conditions suggests dysgenic effects, probably the reduced fertility of brighter persons, but perhaps also an effect of ageing populations. They add:

Visuospatial WM has been found to be a strong predictor of mathematical ability (e.g. Ashkenazi et al., 2013; De Smedt et al., 2009; Hubber, Gilmore, & Cragg, 2014; van der Ven, van der Maas, Straatemeier, & Jansen, 2013). The mathematic scores on the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) during 1959–2015 indicate a significant and negative trend between the year of competition and efficiency score (ratio of attained score and all possible score) (n = 54, r = −0.71, p < 0.01; weighted by sample size for each year) (IMO, 2016). Furthermore, the current findings are consistent with many studies that have observed decline on attentionally demand visuospatial tasks (Pietschnig & Gittler, 2015; Woodley of Menie & Fernandes, 2016).

These are alarming findings, particularly to me with my Whig view of history.

Talking about moderator variables, the authors say:

The study made a comparison between developed and developing countries, finding that people in developed countries showed higher performance on all four tests. To date, although there has been no previous meta-analysis investigating country type for working memory, a recent study by our group has indicated that participants in developed countries have significantly higher scores on general cognitive ability tests (Wongupparaj et al., 2015). Health and nutrition issues are the main concerns in many developing countries (Müller & Krawinkel, 2005) and these problems have been found to affect the memory span of children (Jukes, 2005; Miu et al., 2016; Niehaus et al., 2002). Furthermore, many studies on illiterate and unschooled people have demonstrated that low scores on STM and WM tasks were usually observed in illiterate people (Kosmidis, Zafiri, & Politimou, 2011). In all, once all moderators (age, sex, test platform and type of country) were included in the model, the relationships between year of publication and mean scores for STM and WM tasks remain statistically significant. This indicated the robustness of the FE and anti-FE on memory measures.

Of course, a possibility that the authors do not consider is that people in developing countries are brighter, which is why their countries are better developed.

The authors conclude:

In summary, verbal and visuospatial STM shows a gradual rise, supporting the FE for STM as measured by FDS and FCB, whilst verbal and visuospatial WM gradually declines over the past four decades, supporting the anti-FE for WM as indexed by BDS and BCB. Over time, environmental influences might have driven the test score changes for both types of STM but speculatively, dysgenic selection against general intelligence and also possibly age-related cognitive decline could have influenced the declining test score for verbal and visuospatial WM, especially for developed countries. These patterns of the results are in line with the predictions from the co-occurrence model, that is, the FE effect possibly occurs on less g-loaded abilities, whereas the anti-FE effect may concentrate on high g-loaded abilities.

So, Woodley’s “co-occurrence” model gets a strong confirmation.

What next? I think that when discussing historical changes in ability we should restrict ourselves to ratio scales with true zeros. That will keep us better grounded in real changes. In addition, we should look at tasks which have a formal logic to them such as Maths, Science and hypothetico-deductive Piagetian formal operations tasks. Back to Archimedes. Come to that, back to Eratosthenes.

• Category: Science • Tags: Flynn Effect, IQ, Woodley Effect, Working Memory 
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  1. The mathematic scores on the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) during 1959–2015 indicate a significant and negative trend between the year of competition and efficiency score (ratio of attained score and all possible score) (n = 54, r = −0.71, p < 0.01; weighted by sample size for each year) (IMO, 2016)

    This is completely irrelevant to intelligence or IQ. The science Olympiads have been getting harder over time and the (domain specific) problem-solving ability of the competitors has been rising due to longer and longer preparation time and ever improving Internet databases of practice material. Comparing IMO 1967 with 2017 makes no sense.

    At the same time, more low-scoring third world countries are joining the contests. The result (at the IMO, where these trends are most apparent) is increasing problem variance: more extremely hard problems to sort out the gold medalists and winning countries, together with a very slowly rising standard of difficulty for the one or two easy problems that are put on the contest to prevent total discouragement among weaker participants.

    If psych studies want to analyze time trends in IMO data they should use a fixed set of countries, otherwise the new countries drag down the average scores as a function of time.

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  2. res says:

    I was going to complain about them not trying a nonlinear model with respect to BMI, but it looks like they found a different way of dealing with that possibility:

    Percentiles are distributed such that youth were classified as underweight (<5th percentile), healthy weight (5–85th percentile), overweight (85–95th percentile), or obese (≥95th percentile). Underweight youth were not included in the current study due to potential distinct mechanisms supporting their neurodevelopment (Van den Eynde & Treasure, 2009).

    They then go on to say (emphasis mine):

    Participant BMI ranged across healthy weight (25–84th percentile), overweight (85–95th percentile), and obese (≥95th percentile) categories.

    A typo (if so, which one?) or did I miss something?

  3. @academic gossip

    Thank you for these further details about the IMO competition. Every competition has its own peculiarities, but that does not prevent them from being informative, so long as one understands the changes which have been made over time, which can be tantamount to a test being renormed.
    I was interested in the attempt at an efficiency measure, but would have been more interested in finding out if the problems were getting harder or easier. You say: “more extremely hard problems” are being used now. Fine. How does one specify that increase in difficulty? That would be the basis for an interesting study.
    Finally, I don’t see maths competitions as completely irrelevant to the assessment of intelligence. I think they are very valid tests of high ability.

    • Replies: @Emil O. W. Kirkegaard
  4. Franklin says:

    If this is meant to explain away the declining WM findings, note that it may be that lower IQ people are simply more prone to be fat. IQ is related to a number of health measures, possibly by way of a general fitness factor, including BMI.

    academic gossip: That may be (re: Math Olympiad stuff), but note that the authors are merely indicating that declining Math Olympiad performance may have some relation to declining visuospatial working memory. The Math Olympiad data aren’t part of their main analysis. Your claim that the IMO trend is “completely irrelevant to intelligence or IQ” is premature. It may in fact be that despite the changes you have identified, part of the decline in IMO scores is due to worsening VS WM. Someone should examine the data with the necessary controls applied.

  5. @Sean

    Thanks. Interesting finding. Would need to see how they dealt with the confounder that lower ability subjects are more likely to be obese in the first place.

    • Replies: @Ivy
  6. anon • Disclaimer says:

    I’m sorry, but, what is that opening graph supposed to be showing me? To me all it really says is that there were more, bigger studies starting in the 90s.

    But if I’m supposed to be believe any conclusions drawn from a linear regression and an R^2 of, what, 10%? then I’m not buying it.

    • Replies: @Ross
  7. Ross says:

    It’s a meta-analysis. The studies are weighted by sample size. Are you daft?

    • Replies: @anon
  8. @Sean

    Abstracts don’t really say much. Here is the full paper:

    I’ll comment on it in a bit after I read it.

  9. Cortes says:

    No doubt useless nonsense but the details of (1) the spatial awareness and cartographic skills of Inuits described by Norman Lopez in his “Arctic Dreams” and (2) similar descriptions of the spatial awareness in Aboriginal Australian people contained in Bruce Chatwin’s “Songlines” are both fascinating. Diverse extreme environmental conditions producing human beings with similar looking (to a lay person) mental skills.

    Such a shame that they never invented the lawnmower or composed classical music.

    • Replies: @Cortes
  10. Cortes says:

    Oops! Make that BARRY Lopez.


  11. @James Thompson

    >Fine. How does one specify that increase in difficulty? That would be the basis for an interesting study.

    One can give the old items and the new items in parallel to people and analyze the data with IRT to get the difficulty params.

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  12. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Of course, a possibility that the authors do not consider is that people in developing countries are brighter, which is why their countries are better developed.

    Should be “developed” I believe.

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  13. My take is that the Flynn Effect is backward looking, in that it results from measuring cumulative knowledge of humankind over time. Even the least bright among us can’t help but soak in some of the collective knowledge floating around. What you are looking at here is a measure that suggests manipulating or synthesizing ability might be in decline.

  14. @Anonymous

    Yes, thanks. Got my euphemisms mixed up.

  15. @Emil O. W. Kirkegaard

    Agree, but I was looking to see if there were mathematical proofs to show that some maths problems were more difficult than others.

  16. anon • Disclaimer says:

    Hi, thanks for the useful comment!

    Granted I don’t have any fancy statistical analysis software, but looking at the blue circles if you started your analysis at 1990 (or maybe even 1975) I don’t think you’d have a very strong case that the trendline changed at all.

    I am very skeptical about claims of “dysgenic effects” supposedly demonstrated by this noisy data set.

    • Replies: @Benjamin I. Espen
    , @anon
  17. @anon

    I am pretty skeptical of this study, simply based on how terrible the plot is in Figure 2! I think it would be easier to see if the authors hadn’t attempted to cram quite so much information into one plot.

    For example, it might be more obvious that trying to fit a linear regression to this time-series data probably isn’t justified. The complexity of the meta-analysis obscures the very fundamental question of whether this is an appropriate technique at all.

  18. anon • Disclaimer says:

    Geeeeee! Eyeballing graphs! What a sophisticated technique! No need for all of those meta-analytic methods, surely. What do those idiot statisticians bother messing around with all that for? You really need to pass your brilliant insights along to the authors of the paper. Your obvious progressivist bias against dysgenic effects ought to be included as well. Everyone knows that’s what science should turn on!

    • Replies: @anon
  19. anon • Disclaimer says:

    Do you know how linear regression works? Do you know what logistic regression is? Do you know when it’s appropriate to use which? Do you know what R^2 means? Do you know the difference between statistical significance and actual significance? Do you know the difference between frequentist and Bayesian hypothesis testing, and which is the one that gives you answer you care about? Do you have any plausible mechanism in mind that would lead one to believe there is an uninterrupted linear decline in memory for almost a century?

    No, you just have a bunch of studies and a statistical analysis package that you learned in grad school that you put numbers into and gives you numbers. Yes, the meta-analysis probably doesn’t have as many problems in experimental design and analysis as individual studies, but at the end of the day you get ridiculous results. The headline number is that BDS performance decreases at 0.01 units/year (plus or minus 0.01 units!), but whether or not the test was administered on computer is good for 0.39 performance difference and “type of country” (developed vs. not) is good for 0.73 units of difference! Tell me, how many of these tests were administered in the developing world on computer in the 40s????

    So, yes, keep reciting “meta-analytic methods” as your mantra, because when you don’t know matrix algebra statistics does seem like magic. But as someone who understands the math and has a couple firing neurons, I will continue to use the sniff test to see if the result makes sense.

    The progressivist slur, though, was a bit uncalled for… I’m as much of a doom’n’gloomer as everyone else, which is why I’m down on most modern “studies.”

    • Replies: @anon
  20. Ivy says:
    @James Thompson

    Find out if they consume artificial sweeteners, specifically Splenda, known to reduce memory function and to induce weight gain.

  21. anon • Disclaimer says:

    “Do you know how linear regression works? Do you know what logistic regression is? Do you know when it’s appropriate to use which?”

    I’m sure your eyeballs and moronic intuitions would’ve been invaluable to the authors in determining something as basic as the model of best fit.

    “Do you have any plausible mechanism in mind that would lead one to believe there is an uninterrupted linear decline in memory for almost a century?”

    I know of a phenomenon that almost surely exists, and that could leave researchers with a set of data on WM performance over time for which a linear regression would be the best model of fit: You seem a bit too dull to grok what a statistical model really constitutes.

    “but whether or not the test was administered on computer is good for 0.39 performance difference and ‘type of country’ (developed vs. not) is good for 0.73 units of difference”

    Are you slow? Do you understand what a moderator is, or how moderators are handled in meta-analysis? Well, why would you? As random clown #35665823, you have seen through the entire field of statistics. Muh matrix algebra! Just one more progressivist idiot who ends up having to go after statistics itself because he doesn’t like psychometrics.

    • Replies: @Ivy
    , @anon
  22. Ivy says:

    Is anon vs. anon some kind of Spy vs. Spy or some recursive story? Are you two different people or not? Are you auto-regressive? /s

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  23. @Ivy

    It is up to you, anon and anon, what you call yourselves, but for those of us who want to understand your arguments it would help if you chose other anonymous names. For example, if one of you were to choose Frequentist Fellow and the other Bayesian Boy I would be able to follow you more easily.
    Reminds me of a a story read out to me by my Philosophy Professor, Anthony Garrard Newton Flew, as we waited for the rest of the class to arrive. It was from the local press.

    Mr Smith wishes it to be known that he is not the Mr Smith referred to last week.

    • Replies: @dearieme
  24. dearieme says:
    @James Thompson

    Churchill’s letter to the other Winston Churchill
    London, June 7, 1899.

    Mr. Winston Churchill presents his compliments to Mr. Winston Churchill, and begs to draw his attention to a matter which concerns them both. He has learnt from the Press notices that Mr. Winston Churchill proposes to bring out another novel, entitled Richard Carvel, which is certain to have a considerable sale both in England and America. Mr. Winston Churchill is also the author of a novel now being published in serial form in Macmillan’s Magazine, and for which he anticipates some sale both in England and America. He also proposes to publish on the 1st of October another military chronicle on the Soudan War. He has no doubt that Mr. Winston Churchill will recognise from this letter — if indeed by no other means — that there is grave danger of his works being mistaken for those of Mr. Winston Churchill. He feels sure that Mr. Winston Churchill desires this as little as he does himself. In future to avoid mistakes as far as possible, Mr. Winston Churchill has decided to sign all published articles, stories, or other works, ‘Winston Spencer Churchill,’ and not ‘Winston Churchill’ as formerly. He trusts that this arrangement will commend itself to Mr. Winston Churchill, and he ventures to suggest, with a view to preventing further confusion which may arise out of this extraordinary coincidence, that both Mr. Winston Churchill and Mr. Winston Churchill should insert a short note in their respective publications explaining to the public which are the works of Mr. Winston Churchill and which those of Mr. Winston Churchill. The text of this note might form a subject for future discussion if Mr. Winston Churchill agrees with Mr. Winston Churchill’s proposition. He takes this occasion of complimenting Mr. Winston Churchill upon the style and success of his works, which are always brought to his notice whether in magazine or book form, and he trusts that Mr. Winston Churchill has derived equal pleasure from any work of his that may have attracted his attention.

    The long term solution, I suppose was to become Sir Winston Churchill. So I propose that Earl of Anon should argue with the Count of Anon.

    • Replies: @middle aged vet . . .
  25. What a great age it was when our political masters were also masters of the English Language.

  26. anon • Disclaimer says:

    (Bayesian Boy here.)

    Cool reply, bro.

    Do you understand what a moderator is, or how moderators are handled in meta-analysis?

    I dunno, do you? Does this paper give any indication wtf they actually did? If you can point me to some legitimate sources on the dark arts of statistics that would imply that the authors did not just linearly regress on indicator variables for “type of country” or “on the computers” I’d appreciate it.

    Even accepting their methodology as valid, the correlation between year and BDS is -0.02. Stop the g-d presses!

  27. @dearieme

    The problem is one quickly runs out of honorifics. We had King Oliver, then Duke Ellington, then Count Basie, and a couple of Sirs (Coleman Hawkins played in the band of Sir Charles Thompson). Poor Kid Rock and Kid Creole had to go the Childe Harold route to use something previously unused. Even Louis Armstrong came along too late in the game and had to settle for “Pops” which is more or less the American male jazz equivalent of “Queen Mum”. That being said, props to each of the anons (unusquisque anonymorum, for the Latinists), it is always nice to see the old “argumentum ab auctoritate” (“argumentum ad verecundum”) non-ironically deployed and responded to : you’d have thought it would have dropped off the charts, or at least appeared only in disguised form, generally for comical effect, in the internet age, but you’d have thought wrong.

    • Replies: @James Thompson
    , @dearieme
  28. @middle aged vet . . .

    I have it on good authority that the argument from authority is fallacious (unless both parties agree on the authority of the Authority).

  29. dearieme says:
    @middle aged vet . . .

    Marquis, Marquess, Viscount, Baron, Squire … or that brilliant Americanism of addressing the Attorney General as ‘General’. Doge, Prince, Grand Duke, Elector, ……

    Best of all, how about Pope Anon and Anti-Pope Anon?

  30. Once i saw the reference to working memory I was gripped ànd wanted the chance to ask you JT more about it. That was because one of my favoutite nieces doing first year A level was ģiven indifferent predicted grades at her academic school and so got no provisionzl offers from Oxbridge (her acknowledged leasership and acting abilities notwithstanding), at which point Tiger Mother got to work and took her to a psychologist who allegedly (as I remember being told) said her working memory was in the bottom 10 per cent. She is untidy and disorganised at things like cooking, but so am I and I think my short term memory was exceptionally high (though with the little quirk in verbal matters that I would find I had got the sense exactly right but not ipsissima verba). She settled for a place at one of the more academic Ivies.

    Now i again wonder what to make of it as her A level results have come in at A*s (and very good A*s) in Politics and History, A in one European language and the equivalent of an A* in another European language which was examined under the Pre U [???] system.

    (Her shy younger sister has had 4 A*s predicted but is too young to be considering offers).

    She also took some rather unpleasant pills for a while for alleged ADD which one of her other uncles simply scoffed at. But neither of us see enough of her to form a truly informed view so have to basically rely on larental report. There’s something odd somewhere isn’t there?

    • Replies: @Wizard of Oz
    , @res
  31. @Wizard of Oz

    Still trying to get my mind round working memory and short term memory in their actual working. Being an undisciplined quick learner until partly saved by example from age 22 I was a very good crammer for exams (and no: no one ever thought of me as a potential Lewis Namier in scholarship or Fellow of All Souls if only…) but I wonder if that could be ascribed indifferently to “working memory” or “short term memory”. An argument against is that the all nighter before an exam mightn’t stop one’s short term memory regurgitating but would surely interfere with the nimble functioning of working memory….

    • Replies: @res
  32. res says:
    @Wizard of Oz

    She also took some rather unpleasant pills for a while for alleged ADD which one of her other uncles simply scoffed at. But neither of us see enough of her to form a truly informed view so have to basically rely on larental report. There’s something odd somewhere isn’t there?

    Is there any chance that whatever caused her to need to take those pills was (is?) also harming her working memory? (I am assuming that ADD is something of a garbage diagnosis and there is a real physical thing going on)

  33. @res

    Thank you. Very interesting, partly because of further questions it prompts. I had no idea that short term memory, as distinct from the working memory one might be using when making a calculation, could be as short as ~18 seconds.

    What about those (almost) all-nighters for exams where a good crammer did it because he could (and too often went to sleep in the library when trying to be dutifully conventional in the many months leading up to the exam)? “Short term” seemed applicable because of the evident rapid loss of the crammed material over the next days and year.

    A newly prompted thought about successfully crammed-for exams is that the success was dependant on being able to use the crammed material in a structure of understanding and established formats of intelligent reasoning.
    Then the loss of the crammed material, though not explained by its having been in ~18 sec short term memory, is to be explained like the tossing out of any other little valued junk (if only because other temporarily held junk has to take its place) and one might therefore explain it better as truncated processes of long term memory formation which make insufficient connections for permanency.

    None of that goes far to explain some of my odd memory experiences that I occasionally wonder about. For example, my attendance in the morning at the first lecture in a new (verbal) subject which I didn’t take notes on but lined up while listening to it with the legible and complete notes that a cousin had previously made of the identical lesson/lecture. With my girl friend that evening I found I could remember the whole lecture apparently verbatim (she was of course enchanted). Decades later, chairing a meeting, I shored up my right to the chair by immediately, verbatim or as good as, replacing 30 seconds of a witness’s evidence that had been lost by a stenographer who fumbled the replacement of her tape. Yet, as previously noted, I have life long evidence of my tendency to remember the exact sense of words reliably without getting the exact (prose) words right. In an English Lit exam in my teens I recall grandly quoting the famous opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice at the beginning of my answer only to find after the exam that I had got about five words wrong while retaining the exact meaning. I am conscious of an apparent inconsistency here in my claiming to remember after the exam exactly what I had written an hour or so before. My resolution is to say that I have a very precise memory of the exact words – “but you did say ‘always’ ” or “it did refer to ‘natural’ children” etc – when it matters to an argument, bùt I probably instinctively save mental energy when possible (leading, as I get older, to irritating requests to others to repeat the exact words). Thia process or habit I might label with a word I remember from MBA days, viz. satisficing.

  34. says:

    From what I heard the IMO problems were tested with a panel of professional mathematicians to determine the difficulty of the problem. For the legendary question 6 of the IMO 1988 from the test panel nobody was able to solve that single problem in 6 hours. They set it in the IMO together with two other problems and expected the competitors to solved them in 4.5 hours, i.e. on average 90 mins per problem. Of the 68 competitors 11 managed to solve it. Even Terence Tao at 13 yo got only 1 out of 7 marks for the problem but he went on to win a gold medal. The competitor who solved it the most elegantly using only a single paragraph of proof (may be much less than the 90 mins allotted time), however he only got a silver medal for the overall results.

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