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The Flynn Effect Explained (Partly)
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Flynn effect from 1900 voracek



The Flynn Effect is important to understand; it is better understood now than ever before, but there is more to research; and it is probably more limited in its real-world consequences than people imagine, though the long-term consequences are still being debated.

Say you take any test of ability, and as an example let us take a vocabulary test. The test requires you not to just say whether you have heard a word, but to show that you know what it means by giving an accurate synonym. On the basis of this test your total word store can be calculated, and an accurate estimate made of your intelligence. Several decades later the students are followed up to see if their early verbal intelligence scores are associated with later success in life. Many studies reveal that testing general mental ability (vocabulary, verbal reasoning, spatial matching, mathematical progressions and so on) at around age 11 remains stable over the life course, and early intelligence gives a good indication of later achievements.

So, the Flynn effect be damned: intelligence tests are good predictors of later achievement, even when the scores are not known to anyone, including potential employers, so cannot have a self-confirming influence. It is because of results like these that researchers know that the Flynn effect does not diminish the predictive power of intelligence. The Flynn effect becomes important in the comparison of cohorts. That is to say, do 11 year olds nowadays have better vocabularies than 11 year olds 6 decades ago? Comparing across decades is problematical. The problem is that language has changed somewhat, so some words in the vocabulary test need to be changed, generally every decade, so that they can do their job of sorting out the test takers accurately according to their vocabularies. Tests and exams are designed to find the best predictors right now for reliable predictions of later achievements. They are less good at cohort comparisons. In fact, all exams have to tune themselves to the problems of the present, in order to be faithful indicators of ability. That fine tuning makes them partly children of their time, good at what they do (for example, picking the brightest to go on to the most demanding universities) but less good at allowing accurate comparison to be made across different versions of the exam over the decades.

All is not lost, because some test items stay the same. Digit Span has the same basic format, though the test has been improved by giving more trials so as to boost reliability. Coding tasks are very similar to what they have always been. Reaction times to simple or complex stimuli are also pretty standard. (In fact, the different technologies used over the last century have been difficult to compare, but that is a technical issue due to quirks of the equipment, not a conceptual one because the task remains the same). Simple arithmetic follows the same rules as always, so provides a good benchmark.

So, in judging whether the Flynn Effect is a real change in intelligence, it is preferable to go for the most unchanging of the test procedures, and to look at raw score wherever possible. I will not go into all those matters just at the moment, but you can find them in the Archive under “Flynn Effect”. As a rule of thumb, tests of Digit Span and Maths have shown little variance with cohorts.

What I would like you to assume for a moment that the apparent rise in intelligence in the last 8 decades is a true finding, and not just a case of IQ inflation. That is, assume that people are really brighter now, not just better at answering questions designed to measure their intelligence. If so, what follows?

Well, we should be living in the golden age of the intellect. Our rate of innovation should be increasing, problems should be being solved at a faster rate than ever before, and instructions manuals should be much shorter, if even needed at all. Also, we should have a good understanding of probability, sampling theory, and tests of statistical significance.

These matters have been much debated of late. Michael Woodley argues that the rate of innovation has decreased, that vocabularies are decreasing, that reaction times are slowing, that the more intellectually demanding task of Digits Backwards is decreasing somewhat while the easier Digits Forwards is increasing slightly, and that sensory discrimination is blunted. James Flynn argues that judging innovation in the short term is very difficult, because it takes time to evaluate the true impact and power of new ideas, many of which require proofs not yet available. He also doubts that the supposed increases in ability are real in the deep sense of current generations being brighter than their grandparents. He suggests that there has been a shift from concrete to abstract frames of reference, mostly due to schooling.

At this stage it is apposite to introduce a quiet couple you will not have heard of: Olev and Aasa Must. They are psychologists at the University of Tartu, Estonia. Estonia has many positive characteristics, but the best from my point of view is that they take intelligence seriously. Estonia bothered to translate and re-norm the Yerkes test in 1934. This has proved a psychometric gold mine.

In 2013, together with William Shiu; Alexander Beaujean; and Jan te Nijenhuis, Olev and Aasa Must used item response theory to delve into the Estonian version of the Yerkes 1919 National Intelligence Test given in Estonia in 1934 and again in 2006 and found that, using only the invariant (stable) items there was a Flynn effect on all but one subtest. There was much variability in the strength of the effect, ranging from an effect size of 0.24 (3.60 IQ points) to 1.05 (15.75 IQ points). There was a decrease in variability across time for all subtests, although only two showed a large decrease. Overall, the study suggested a real Flynn effect in Estonia, and of course the effect is not likely to be specific to that country, but be part of a general trend revealed by the careful collection of item by item intelligence testing in 1934. In 2016 they published further work on the Flynn effect.

So, what is the real effect of the Flynn Effect? It seems to have been very positive for well-organized and therefore wealthy countries; but currently to be fading or even reversing in those countries; while at the same time it is rising in poorer countries which are now becoming better organized in delivering schooling and health to their populations. Their rate of rising is slow: convergence with wealthy countries will take somewhere between 60 years and never.

What is the effect for the well-organized and wealthy world of the reversing Flynn effects, of the drop in their intelligence?

Olev Must muses on whether the reversing Flynn effect will have real consequences for those societies. In particular, he wonders about societies living for decades or indeed centuries with negative Flynn effects. Modern societies (in Northen America and in Europe) are adapted to having positive Flynn effects, at least in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Western societies have come to believe that younger cohorts are promising, and more able than older ones. Educational systems, professional development, and innovative projects are working on this assumption.

It will be catastrophic to acknowledge and experience that one generation, the next generation, and the third generation are each less mentally agile than the previous one. Olev Must wonders why results of Finland in PISA have been dropping since 2012? Is this result of high migration? Will this have some other consequences, particularly for the economy? Does the Finnish educational model does not work any more?
We should not rush things. These predictions will be testable with each generation, but the current trend of the Negative Flynn Effect is sufficient to make some intelligence researchers worried.

Happy New Year!

• Category: Science • Tags: Cohorts, Flynn Effect, IQ 
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  1. JayMan says: • Website

    I think that it’s precisely because rates of innovation are not obviously rising–and, more to the point–that the fraction of top achievers is not increasing speaks against the Flynn effect representing an increase in “real” intelligence.

    • Replies: @res
    , @pyrrhus
  2. He suggests that there has been a shift from concrete to abstract frames of reference, mostly due to schooling.

    Speaking by myself i never been ”schoolingly” influenced at the point to change my intrinsic mental thinking style. And i think this is not just my subjective pattern or un-pattern. Culture became more factually abstractized (and liiittle less magical thinking) and less– discriminatory/biased (supposed to be), but this cannot be translated to the people. People today internalize early in life abstract ideas (not generally concrete solutions, 😉 ) but this doesn’t mean they, on avg, became brighter to understand it, we see clearly that it’s not the case, surprisingly specially with the most important things, survive-related ones, they become even dumber, because leftism infecction.

    In the end, every abstractions need a concrete root, if not it’s just schizophrenia. Good and really effective abstract concepts are never divorced from concrete ones, if they are, generally speaking, the natural expansion of this first concrete understanding, starting from obvious immediate, sensorially perceptive facts/realities to the non-concrete/immediate aspects of it, only humans can touch it by now, at least in this planet, 😉

    We easily can touch, sensorially speaking, this immediate concrete reality, and at the same ”size” of us, and the abstractions tend to be their ”vibrations”, the battle of forces among all concrete and usually individual realities, this off-world among concrete entities.

    Maybe the increase of population size during this period (XX century) have produced a variety of mutational types, good, average, neutral and bad ones.

    First we have the population in their ”natural state”, greater mortality + greater natality. Even mutational load is higher this demographic/genetic balance can be more conservative than evolutive, specially without changing environments.

    Maybe as well IQ varies individually, ”he” can varies collectively, partly explained by changes in structural societies,

    and this mean… little or nothing…

    but the core of intelligence is

    the reasoning

    and directed to the real-world things, every-this-things…

    a good real-world example of intelligence is the analytical-critical–factual thinking, what we see, many or most people tend not to be really good.

    Most part of time what define ”stupidity” is just the instinctive interference in human behavior, even to the naivest human beings.

    Interestingly the great but not infinite human capacity to adjust to their current social environment make them internalize consistently popular ideas/memes/guidelines of their generation because it’s highly effective to be socially succesfull [the most important personal goal for most of them], for example, racism. Surprisingly, racism/self-guilt over-internalization tend to be less evident among older generations, why*

    Because, they, who are on avg, AVG, don’t has been overly exposed to this new-memes earlier in their lifes and specially during their period of socialization.

    Flynn is partly wrong, if i remembered it right, when he said older generations had more concrete thinking because ”their racism” and today because ”empathetic approach to ‘understand’ racism” new generations are more abstract in their thinking. Biases are far to be only-concrete or simple ones, even they tend to manifest themselves as a instinctive mode than a reflective one, it’s not all personal biases that will be wrong. To catch avg behavior of human or individual groups we need use our abstract mode, resulting in primary statistical refference of this particular dynamics, but because their extreme intimacy with survivability, this abstract perception tend to be instinctive, fundamentally among conservative types, specially because they are evolutionarily specialized to ”see” contrasting patterns/contrasts while empathetic ones tend to be specialized to ”build bridges” among this patterns, or in other words, to see similarities === equality.

  3. Has anyone seriously suggested that the Flynn Effect results from actual increases in intelligence rather than adaptation to a school learning view of the world? I look at my great great grandfather’s arithmetic books when he was 11 and I am very impressed, the trigonometry and algaebra required would have been required of 15 year olds in my day and not asked at all now; yet in his diary he said he learnt little during his time at that particular school. Using that school as a benchmark, far more was demanded of those receiving school based learning then than now. It’s just that few pupils attended (or now attend) schools that had such high expectations.

    Just as rising Flynn marks greater access to school learning (+health, +information flow in the environment) perhaps falling Flynn marks decreased expectations of the more able fractions as comprehensive educational systems geared to the speed of the slowest become widespread?

    What does Flynn suggest about total variation? Is the modern curve flatter?

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  4. Anon • Disclaimer says:

    Access to IRISH SAVANT is blocked on my computer.

    Please, Could somebody cut & paste his articles somewhere else?

  5. @Philip Owen

    If anything, variation between students has been reduced. The results are more homogenous.

    • Replies: @Sunbeam
    , @AP
  6. Sunbeam says:
    @James Thompson

    Now see, this doesn’t make sense.

    Here is something that almost all of us have noticed, whether through looking at the actual originals, or reading the kind of article that pops up every few years.

    Namely that the ability to write has declined. Look at any form of written work done in educational institutions by student up through the 50’s.

    I’m guessing the pattern in the UK is the same as in the states, namely that those old faded pages read much better than what students put out now.

    But you know, there is another flaw with your argument I think.

    You know those subjects from the past you mention? Has it occurred to anyone that a lot of them are STILL ALIVE?

    Which brings me to a point. Have you noticed that older people don’t seem particularly stupid compared to the youth of today? If the Flynn Effect is real, shouldn’t I pick up on it?

    If anything old people are generally more able to do mental arithmetic, tell me what state has which capitol, can pick India and Pakistan out on a globe, are able to tell me roughly who fought in both world wars and Korea, etc.


    “Many studies reveal that testing general mental ability (vocabulary, verbal reasoning, spatial matching, mathematical progressions and so on) at around age 11 remains stable over the life course, ”

    Why don’t you test some old people who took the tests during some of the years you mentioned, and see what kind of data you get? Compare what they score now versus then, and…

    Compare them to the kids.

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  7. @Sunbeam

    “Why don’t you test some old people who took the tests during some of the years you mentioned, and see what kind of data you get? Compare what they score now versus then, and…”

    Yes, this has been done with a 66 year lapse by Ian Deary. Intelligence was maintained over that period, and the survivors did slightly better the second time around. More of those with lower scores at age 11 had already died.

    I will look to see what data we have on that Moray House test if taken now.

    • Replies: @RaceRealist88
  8. The Z Blog says: • Website

    I’ve always been a mild skeptic of the Flynn Effect. By that I mean I accept that IQ has slowly risen, perhaps in fits and starts, over the last X generations. That’s perfectly plausible. My skepticism is in measuring it. We simply don’t have enough data. Five generations is a long time for us, because we live through only three generations. To Mother Nature, five generations is nothing. We would need IQ data from the 18th century forward to really know something about average IQ over time.

    The other reason for my mild skepticism is that human IQ may be like a water glass. When you go to the tap to fill your glass, you wrench open the tap, but then dial it back as the water rises in the glass. Perhaps human IQ has a ceiling and as we approach it, increases slow. What our testing may have picked up is the last few drops into the glass. After all, from the point of view of biology, we have reached all out goals as a species, at least in the West.

    The main driver of my skepticism is that the Flynn Effect is always trotted out by the blank slate crowd. As soon as the conversation shift from IQ to the breakdown by population group, the blank slate crowd starts chanting “Flynn Effect” until the conversation ends.

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  9. @The Z Blog

    Yes, some people imagine that the Flynn Effect will annul racial differences, but that has not been the case so far, a fact that Jim Flynn happily acknowledges. That aside, there are greater gains in poorer countries, so it is true that improving health and education boosts ability in places where living conditions were formerly very poor.

    The secular rise in intelligence is intrinsically interesting because it makes us look at how we apply our intelligence, and what sorts of things in different eras constitute valid tests of ability.

    On your last point, I don’t think we have reached the upper limit of ability. Not at von Neuman standards anyway, and he really existed.

    • Replies: @The Z Blog
    , @RaceRealist88
  10. The Z Blog says: • Website
    @James Thompson

    The secular rise in intelligence is intrinsically interesting because it makes us look at how we apply our intelligence, and what sorts of things in different eras constitute valid tests of ability.

    Very much so. It seems clear that the shift to settled, agricultural life quickly began to reward certain cognitive traits and punish others. That means the shift from agricultural to industrial has had a similar, if not understood, effect on humans where this occurred. That also means another shift is in process as we move to a post-scarcity, automated existence.

    All very interesting topics.

  11. Rushton argued that the Flynn Effect wasn’t on g, and thus unrelated to racial differences in intelligence.

    Also, Must 2003 says, as Rushton argued 18 years ago, that the Flynn Effect is not a Jensen Effect—real gains in g over time. The secular increase in scores is the Jensen Effect, a term Rushton coined in the late 90s if I recall correctly.

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  12. @James Thompson

    Of course by getting rid of malnutrition, disease and parasite load IQ and living standards will increase. Epigg et al state that as countries industrialize, they should be monitored for an decrease in parasitic load and see if that corresponds with a rise in IQ (it definitely would).

  13. @James Thompson

    Doesn’t brain size decrease into old age which corresponds with a decrease in intelligence?

    Estimated maximal and current brain volume predict cognitive ability in old age

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  14. Sunbeam says:

    “Yes, this has been done with a 66 year lapse by Ian Deary. Intelligence was maintained over that period, and the survivors did slightly better the second time around. More of those with lower scores at age 11 had already died.”

    I can gather from this that the identity of the test score takers with an associated score was known to the people reviewing the data? And that low scorers at the age of 11 were confirmed to have died. (Or maybe the low scorers didn’t really care to take such a test again at 77?)

    Actually what fraction of the test takers who took it at 11 did it again at 77? 50%? 25? Lower?

    I can’t imagine being able to do a lot of things physically as well at 77 as I did earlier in life. But cognitive functions aren’t affected by this? General health alone, feel like sh*t, test like sh*t.

    But they did slightly better. Now as a layman I can formulate an alternate theory.

    Namely that these test takers have lived 66 years in an environment that has increasingly become more abstract, that their brains have naturally adapted to perform better in this environment, and because these tests are slanted to the abstract, they perform slightly better despite the decline in their faculties at the age of 77.

    And as I said you don’t get it for free. If an anthropologist or some friendly stone age tribesman tried to teach these people to knap flint, I imagine the 11 year old would pick it up a lot quicker than the same person at 77.

    If you reply to this, don’t worry about offending my sensibilities. If I am wrong, state it bluntly, you won’t offend me.

    But as an anecodote, I had a Phd friend between things, who took a short term job teaching a couple of classes at the school he got his doctorate from roughly 20 years ago.

    He was utterly appalled at how much poorer the undergrads were, as opposed to when he taught these classes as a doctoral candidate. (No idea if the UK does it the same way, but you can easily have guys like this teach introductory differential equations, circuit analysis, solid mechanics, fluid mechanics, in the US.)

    Computer applications like Mathcad had totally ruined any sort of mathematical intuition. In the past working a problem and getting a ludicrous answer would have indicated to the student they had made a mistake. Now they were just numbers with no physical significance, and they had no idea that getting a flow rate of 200 meters/second in a pipe was kind of borked.

  15. res says:

    I find those points significant, but wonder what you think of these thoughts/counterarguments.

    From Dr. Thompson:

    Well, we should be living in the golden age of the intellect. Our rate of innovation should be increasing, problems should be being solved at a faster rate than ever before, and instructions manuals should be much shorter, if even needed at all. Also, we should have a good understanding of probability, sampling theory, and tests of statistical significance.

    From you:

    I think that it’s precisely because rates of innovation are not obviously rising

    I’m not sure what our expectation should be here. I see multiple effects in play:

    1. Flynn effect increasing “real” intelligence (?)
    2. Picking of low hanging fruit and increase of complexity faced by both users and innovators of technology.
    3. Dramatic increase in the candidate population of innovators (both more per country and more countries in the mix).

    Clearly 1 and 3 should increase aggregate ability while 2 diminishes its effectiveness. I’m not sure how to normalize these to create a single expected overall effect. 2. is particularly hard to quantify IMHO because things looks so different in hindsight. It seems all too easy to dismiss the difficulty of earlier innovation because it seems so obvious now given our knowledge base.

    I think it’s also worth noting that we are in a centuries long burst of innovation (e.g. see Charles Murray’s Human Accomplishment). I’m not sure whether we are perceiving more the rate of innovation or its rate of change. I’m also not sure whether it’s realistic to expect innovation to increase steadily rather than vary in fits and starts (e.g. physics circa 1900).

    Also from you:

    that the fraction of top achievers is not increasing speaks against the Flynn effect representing an increase in “real” intelligence.

    I’m not sure the fraction of top achievers (FTA) is the appropriate measure. If we start from the assumption that top achievers were most likely to be enabled (nutrition, found, trained, etc.) in societies with the largest possible (genetic + ?) FTA then we would expect the FTA to decline as more people achieve basic levels (but the assumption might not hold, e.g. China). An example of this would be college students in the US. If you look at the top, average, and total groups over the years I think it is clear that the total has increased dramatically, while the top fraction and average level have both decreased (all of this depends on what you use as the denominator/reference population, here the entire age cohort vs. only college students).

    Also in play here is: how has the definition of top achiever changed? There was a time when understanding quantum physics was challenging for the best. Now that is only a hurdle on the way to ever more complex ideas.

  16. utu says:

    James Thompson: “So, the Flynn effect be damned”

    Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

  17. Sean says:

    Surely modern university and high tech workplaces should increase associative mating for IQ among the less fecund, thereby making them fewer in number but more intelligent as the knowledge class becomes distinct. And, although the overall average is lowered, a few of the cleverest people now should be as clever or cleverer than von Neumann, who had to make do with a housewife for a mother. But he still sets the standard for a superbrain, so there is something missing, and I think Badcock is thinking along the right lines.

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  18. @RaceRealist88

    The real test is not whether gains are “on g” or not, but whether we have real life signs of increasing intelligence. On balance, probably not, but there is lively debate about this.
    Austria/Germany seem to be going down

    France also

    Digit Span is not budging. Reaction times may be getting slower, and certainly not faster.

    Some fear our genetic quality is going down

    I will keep posting about this debate.

  19. Anonymous [AKA "Finnito"] says:

    In Finland we have data from military (obligatory for nearly all men) for the negative flynn effect.
    1) Does not necessary exclude immigrants, but more than PISA
    2) Some people don’t want to stay in army for very long (minimum is 6 months, maximum 12 months), so they play for safe and make bad scores. I don’t know how common this is.

    • Replies: @utu
  20. @Sean

    Yes, assortative mating among university student should be producing some very high ability children. They have probably already been detected by Lubinski and Benbow.

  21. pyrrhus says:

    As I have commented before on Dr. Thompson’s blog, the Flynn effect sure ain’t working on college preparatory tests in the US, and specifically the most elite test, the SAT (administered by the College Board group, and the data can be found on their website). Scores on the SAT, math, verbal and total, have been declining for about 50 years. Efforts to halt the declining scores by making the test easier and ultimately, by simply raising scores arbitrarily by “renorming” the test in 1995, have failed. There are tens of millions of data points here, so the significance level is extremely high. I estimate the diminishing scores to be the equivalent of a loss of more than one IQ point per decade.
    Another point is that SAT scores have been crucial to getting accepted by top universities, so there is a lot at stake here, unlike the situation with IQ tests or Raven matrices. One would expect students to be giving their best efforts on the SAT. The gaps between different subgroups have remained more or less constant, so the decline affects all subgroups.

    • Replies: @U. Ranus
  22. What about measurement invariance? The Estonians had to get rid of ~30% of their questions for lack of MI. Do the remaining questions measure full IQ?

  23. U. Ranus says:

    The first observation that comes to mind would be that SAT takers are a self selected group, so there’s a bias.

    This is actually a question I wanted to ask anyway; what about sampling bias?

    If studies oversample cities (say, for convenience), could internal migration of higher IQ people in industrializing economies raise observed scores?

    • Replies: @pyrrhus
    , @Triumph104
  24. ednels says:

    For years and years there’s been a… panel of experts/ social engineers/ sociologists and academics of the first order working on the continuing project to lower the functional intelligence of the bulk of the populations of the developed world. There may be some experimentation involved, such as race mixing, cultural infusion, and a whole lot more including Telebision!

    I learned about some of this from the great book: Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatti.

    I also remember the ruse of the New Math from about 1962 when the program was jammed on our high school with quickly wire bound books quickly assembled.

    This New Math was all theory and extremely abstract, with no practical applications whatever to be seen. Lacking the prerequisit math courses screens out students from science courses. This New Math was so awful, many like myself included, just stopped right there at Elementary Algebra 1. This in was my humble opinion a beta test not of the curricula, but on the effects on a group, to show the effects, or to show the power in the hands of the ____ who worked the levers and to fine tune the retardant effects on a sample (unwitting!) to create a convenient choke point to thwart the little devils in their thousands, take the pressure off the system, let the stupid teachers take a break, a lot of them were faking it too, the idear ain’t to make a gazzillion gaddamned genius’s to flood the jr. colleges, the idea is to slow it down, bring down the IQ level, merge with the Turd F’n World, have the Sultan and Slave society that… some ______ dream of.

    • Agree: BB753
  25. utu says:

    “Some people don’t want to stay in army […] they play for safe and make bad scores.”

    So it means army in Finland does not want stupid people. Quite the opposite to American police. If you want in you better lower your score.

    US Court Says it’s Okay for Police Departments to Refuse to Hire Someone who is Too Smart

  26. Good point. The measurement invariance criterion is necessary but tough. I suppose their answer would be that the remaining questions measure real IQ across the decades, and to have used the full set of questions would have introduced larger measurement problems. This is a fundamental problem of historical comparison.

  27. AP says:
    @James Thompson

    This suggests that as those of lower measured intelligence have been raised to a higher standard, those whose measured intelligence would have been higher have declined somewhat. The overall average scores of the population have still risen because the former outnumber the latter. Thus, the phenomenon of “elite degradation” over the generations (observed in families with educated ancestors) despite the Flynn effect.

  28. nsa says:

    Total crap akin to the climate change hokum…..stuff so specious only pinhead academics could believe it. Knowledge accumulation masks 10,000 years of declining hominid cranial capacity (peaked at 1500 cc around 10,000 years ago and now averaging about 1350 cc). Get it….humans on average are getting dumber but they still have quite a way to go to get to the 400 cc chimp cranial capacity, except maybe in the ghetto. Don’t believe it? Schedule a field trip to any walmart on food stamp day and examine closely the citizenry of the world’s most advanced republic……

  29. pyrrhus says:
    @U. Ranus

    SAT takers, in their millions every year, are the SAME self-selected group every year. Namely, the best high school students applying to US Universities. So your point is wrong….

    • Replies: @res
  30. I have often wondered if the Flynn effect can’t be entirely explained by the operation of a “practice effect” on all items testing cognitive ability.

    The testing items that seem to be most prone to secular change are, seemingly paradoxically, those which have been designed to reduce any effect of culture, or preparation, on performance. Thus, Raven’s Progressive Matrices are intended to be “culture free” — or much more so than more traditional IQ testing items. Yet among the greatest changes in performance over time have been found on the Raven’s. Perhaps the fallacy is the design of such tests is the idea that there exists a set of test items for which preparation or exposure does not improve performance. Aspects of our culture, including the sorts of tests more routinely employed in our schools, as well as the more deliberately abstract nature of the curriculum of our schools, provides exposure or practice in the sort of thinking tested in Raven’s.

    On the other hand, we have the test items on, say, the SAT, on which performance has been far more stable. But these are items on subject matter for which many years of education — essentially all of elementary, middle school, and high school — have been devoted. And this is has been true across the 50-60 years of the existence of the SAT. It’s reasonable to believe that students will have reached peak performance by the time they take the SAT. It’s not surprising that the SAT would measure consistent performance across the decades, because it quite directly measures ability to answer the sorts of problems that we are actually concerned about in the real world (or at least the real world of college academics), and that has little changed. Raven’s, on the other hand, uses test items which relate in no obvious way to the sorts of problems of concern in college and beyond.

    Now maybe backwards digit recall seems like an exception to this rule. It appears to be “culture free.” It has no direct and obvious import in the sorts of abilities required for success in college or the larger world. Yet no change has been measured in its performance over the years.

    But it’s not obvious that actual practice on this item wouldn’t result in significant performance improvements. It may be that there’s nothing in our contemporary culture, or the culture across the previous century, that constitutes practice or preparation for such a test item — or at least nothing differentiates the eras with respect to such preparation.

    And even if backwards digit recall isn’t, in fact, susceptible to improvements due to practice, it would be a rare such item, and too limited in its ability to predict future performance in college and life to be of important use.

    The point would then seem to remain: if we are to employ tests that are reliable across eras, and measure the sorts of cognitive abilities about which we are truly concerned, we must restrict ourselves to tests that are not “culture free”, and which test abilities which have been honed by many years of preparation.

  31. Agent76 says:

    Mar 10, 2014 Department of Education whistleblower Charlette Iserbyt about the deliberate dumbing down of America.

    The former US Department of Education Senior Policy Advisor suggests that the our educational system is not based upon children learning.

    This single chart demonstrates the truthfullness of Charlette Iserbyt as measured by student test scores

  32. Langley says:


    Thank you for your continued contributions.

    I realize that personality is somewhat out of your area of expertise, but is there evidence of a genetic cause for group differences in behavior?

    Who would you recommend that I read?

    Intelligence is complex and Poly-genetic in origin.
    Group personality differences may be similar.

    Could a single gene (e.g. MAO-A) be responsible for simple violent behavior?

    Again, thank you for your time.

  33. res says:

    SAT takers, in their millions every year, are the SAME self-selected group every year. Namely, the best high school students applying to US Universities. So your point is wrong….

    I was initially inclined to disagree due to more people attending college over time, but the percentage entering college actually hasn’t changed that much over the last 25 years:

    Here is detailed percent college entrance data by race since 1960:

    Here are SAT scores since 1990:
    The scores look fairly stable until one remembers that the SAT was recentered in 1995

    I think the official reason for the recentering casts some light on what is happening:
    “In April 1995, the College Board recentered the score scales for all tests in the SAT Program to reflect the contemporary test-taking population. ”

    This seems to argue against your contention that the test taking population is the SAME across time.

    • Replies: @edNels
  34. CanSpeccy says: • Website

    Many studies reveal that testing general mental ability (vocabulary, verbal reasoning, spatial matching, mathematical progressions and so on) at around age 11 remains stable over the life …

    That does not seem to be the case. Here, for example, based on a survey of almost half a million people, is evidence of growth in vocabulary until late middle age.

    Whatever is the correct understanding of the Flynn effect, the phenomenon should not distract attention from the fact that the genetically determined neurological or physiological basis of intelligence of Western populations must be declining, since there is an inverse relationship between fertility and IQ.

    What should be the focus of attention is developing a sane population policy, i.e., one that promotes the fertility of the most fit, physically and intellectually.

    In addition, to make the best of what talent there is, there needs be a return to a school system committed to education, not PC indoctrination and the promotion of liberal-left intolerance, anti-white racism, etc.

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  35. edNels says:

    This seems to argue against your contention that the test taking population is the SAME across time.

    Yeah maybe so, but these professional students that have half a brain… are getting the jump on tests, all tests are a great way to eliminate the competition, or the super brainiacs that are truly bound for high places/ University, hey, ”nice guys finish last”, and cheating is the new normal, ”It’s what you do!”

    They bone up on the tests, answers. Perfect set up to put lame asses above real intelligence.

    Dumb down the masses, and insert the predictable manageable drone contingeant, with maybe IQ 120 or less.

    The inbred elite, can’t be bothered with up and comers with too much on the ball.

  36. Whatever Flynn Effect lift to IQ that the modern social-democracy has been able to provide through improvement to diet and schooling and so forth is surely now exhausted, but the opposite effect, proposed in Idiocracy, is just getting started.

    • Replies: @Santoculto
  37. @CanSpeccy

    You are right that vocabulary increases in terms of total word store, which is a real measure. If you search for Vocabulary in the search bar for my archive you will see that I have gone into the various tests in some detail. The trail starts here:

    However, stability over the life course means that someone who has good vocabulary (relative to his peers) at age 11 is highly likely to have good vocabulary relative to his peers aged 70. Their position is stable, though the absolute levels will have changed during the life course. Another example: processing speed definitely slows up with age, and is a good predictor of decline. That too stays stable until 65 or so, and then varies according to whether the person shows any signs of dementia or general ill health.
    Here is an example:

    • Replies: @CanSpeccy
  38. @U. Ranus

    Sixteen states require the ACT exam, although the data would only be useful for that state. It wouldn’t say anything for the nation as a whole. Blacks in states with large Indian reservations tend to outscore American Indians, but blacks don’t outscore American Indians nationally. A few states are either requiring or offering the SAT for free.

    If studies oversample cities (say, for convenience), could internal migration of higher IQ people in industrializing economies raise observed scores?

    Due to gentrification, the NAEP exam shows that black kids in DC are six years behind DC’s white kids.

  39. CanSpeccy says: • Website
    @James Thompson

    stability over the life course means that someone who has good vocabulary (relative to his peers) at age 11 is highly likely to have good vocabulary relative to his peers aged 70.

    Um, well not exactly! Stability means being resistant to change, i.e., constant. It does not mean “lifetime rank stability.”

    Further, vocabulary does not show perfect rank stability, as these data indicate.

    • Replies: @CanSpeccy
  40. anon • Disclaimer says:

    if populations have a maximum potential average IQ and if there are things which can reduce their actual average IQ below the maximum potential e.g. inbreeding or diet, then the most successful populations are likely to be those who by accident or design reduced the negative IQ factors to a minimum and thus are (or were) closer to peak potential

    if so then it wouldn’t be surprising if any Flynn effect among the historically most successful populations would flat line

    however what this implies to me is regardless of whether the maximum peak is genetic or environmental or whether different populations have different maximum potential that any change in diet among the flat line Flynn countries should be carefully looked at as if they are (or were) at or near the peak then the only way is down – and so any changes to their trad. diet are likely to be either neutral or negative


    possibly on topic

    overview of global fish consumption since the 1970s

  41. @John Achterhof

    This a bullshit, completely…

    Supposedly a couple of phd are the piece of cake of intellect, but not, because seems many or most of so-called ”smart[er]” people are not really smart based on real concept and practice of this concept…

    Creatives invent the world, everything that exist was invented by a creative mind or by a creative state of the mind…

    Wises are the best to make good– to –excellent judgments…

    And the ”smarters”…

    what remain for them**

    ”Learn’ what highly creative people invent and despise excellent judgments make by wises, just sometimes accepting it, while it’s convenient.

  42. CanSpeccy says: • Website

    In fact, the last set of data to which I linked provides clear evidence of cultural determination of (i.e., an effect of literacy on) vocabulary size and hence IQ, as one would reasonably expect.

    This and other cultural effects (e.g., the benefit of attending a good school) would explain many class, race, socio-economic-status, and cultural change (e.g., the advent of cheap books, TV, computers, social media, etc.) effects on IQ — the cultural change effects presumably accounting for the greater part of the Flynn effect.

  43. jeff zylo says:

    I think it probably that most people on Unz have a good understanding of the role of intelligence and the extreme importance to world history of the few great minds. That is all well and good. What we do not know, is why are some people so liberal?

    In your description of the lower tiers of intelligence, you ascribe a belief in God (and later magic). But most liberal people are fairly intelligent yet they believe in the “magic” worlds of progressivism and diversity when it is quite clear to the rationale mind that both are nothing more than fantasy.

    If the world were inhabited only by Western Europeans, I think a huge fraction of global issues would cease. Concerns like global warming, terrorism, antibiotic resistance could all be effectively addressed as needed. We have achieved a level of technology that makes life very easy and most of us are capable of high level teamwork. So why is that liberals, if they are smart, and if smart people are more rationale, and if smart people are less likely to believe in magic, believe in the false premise of diversity as strength? Why are they dooming themselves?

    I think there is a problem in your analysis along the vector of “believes in magic.” I also think the intelligence research community is missing the mark with regards to why smart people are destroying their nations. I think for the latter issue there is something with regards to lowered masculinity making for weak constitution and conviction and an inability to stand strong. For the intelligence research community, this could be an interesting angle of study with potentially important results. Something is happening to cause white people to commit to cultural suicide. Why worry about actual IQ tests when the ship has taken a broadside hit.

    • Replies: @Santoculto
    , @anon
  44. @jeff zylo

    1. intelligence is a very vague term. Intelligence in the way we tend to believe is overrated. Humanity has been highly dependent of creativity much more than intelligence. Intelligence is the capacity to learn what creative geniuses invent, because so many clever people seems to be poor independent perceivers. Well they are son of god too, they have social lifes and it’s more important for most of them.

    2. Smarter people are overrated. Just look again to their conformity to the authority and incapacity to work when they are in real world pressures/ life risk’s. They can’t, seems most them. Specially intelligence via IQ scores,

    3. Wisdom is superior than intelligence as well creativity. Wisemen are better judges and analyzers. Creative ones basically create things since the language to the most recent inventions. Without both this types, learners/aka smarters only can sustain what creative fire creates and poorly follow the dropes of wisdom sometimes civilization tend to have,

    4. We live in the massified higher education times. Seems very salient to take note that learners/smarters tend to be just like a avg Joey with the same psycho cognitive vulnerabilities but with cognitive steroids. Cognitive dissonance, usually quite common among avg joeys seems increase their potential of destruction and self deception among “high functioning avg joey’s”, aka, learners/ smarter ones.

    5. Without wisdom intelligence is dangerous. Without creativity intelligence play safe, is boring. Unwise or irrational smart people not just those on the left tend to be(come) atomized, obsessed with their supposed fresh of genius they think they have/and probably it’s partially true, megalomaniac, but they are on avg quite good to hide their real feelings of self grandiosity to the public sphere,

    6. One of the great weaknesses of the avg joey’s is their instinctive competitiveness. Instead try to understand important aspects of the reality firstly they are dragged to compete socially with other people and many smarter/learners act like that and the great problem is that they have the power to force all society to their rules based on this inner noise.

    No doubt what really lack to the humankind is the wisdom and wisemen in the power. High functioning avg joey’s just use this responsibility to their own even they are not psychopaths.

  45. anon • Disclaimer says:
    @jeff zylo

    So why is that liberals, if they are smart, and if smart people are more rationale, and if smart people are less likely to believe in magic, believe in the false premise of diversity as strength? Why are they dooming themselves?

    I think there are multiple reasons but for relatives i have who are like that it’s simply that they are being lied to by the media/academia and have no reason to disbelieve them.

    (Well they do as I tell them but that involves them having to believe me over the entire media/academia which is hard for people. It’s easier for them to believe i’ve been influenced by the bad company i’ve kept at various times.)

    They grew up and always lived where there wasn’t any negative consequences of diversity* and trust the media when it lies to them.

    (*This is partly because the negative consequences are concentrated at the two age extremes where the young and old are preyed on by street gangs. A lot of liberal types will spend a few years in their twenties in very diverse areas but that’s too old to be in one prime target group and too young for the other.)

    It’s a version of garbage in, garbage out. They have a working moral compass – slightly skewed to xenophilia – but that moral compass is fed total garbage data by the media/academia and so moral garbage comes out.

    The recent story about the white kid tortured by a black gang is completely normal – happens all the time (mostly black-black). The media simply won’t report the truth.

    So Liberals from regions or classes that have no personal experience and who have the xenophilia skew make perfect sense within this bubble created by the media/academia.

    (That’s why the class distribution is so skewed – they think it’s cos they’re smarter than the proles but the real reason is they don’t have the personal experience to know they are being conned by the media.)

    So the real question is why is the media/academia lying to everyone?

  46. utu says:

    The more accurate title of the article imho.

    The Flynn Effect Unexplained or How We Prefer Think To Not Think About The Flynn Effect

  47. I agree with everything you say and I am glad to see the public getting educated on the Flynn effect.

    However I think a further explanation of the Flynn effect is required that you did not include. IQ tests are the best indicator of future success, they obviously have a very high correlation with our actual genetic intelligence. But the Flynn effect was very real for a long time because IQ tests are quite flawed and this is especially so when an individual has below an 8th grade education. You have to read to take an intelligence test. If you can’t read very well then an IQ test does not accurately measure your genetic intelligence. What happen to create the Flynn effect was we moved through a time period when the general population became far better educated. After the population became not just literate but maximally literate for their IQ, then the Flynn effect stopped.

    Keep posting James, Unz Review needs you

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  48. @dave chamberlin

    Thanks for your kind words. By the way, you do not have to be able to read to do an intelligence test. The Raven’s Progressive Matrices requires no reading, in that non-readers can be asked to just point to the correct option. Neither does most of the Wechsler test.

    • Replies: @dave chamberlin
  49. @James Thompson

    Thanks for your reply. I don’t think I am mistaken that the Flynn effect was caused by the public continuing further in school, am I? The Raven’s Progressive Matrices is problem solving that people can learn to get a lot better at, not only by repeatedly taking the test but by similar mental activity which continued education at times simulates. The majority of IQ tests rely heavily on reading and answering questions don’t they?

    I defer to your greater expertise, but I think it important that when talking about the Flynn effect we need to discuss the reasons it once existed as well as why it has ceased in developed nations.

    When I talk to my old liberal friends they always pull out the Flynn effect as defense of their cherished belief that we are all born equal and that environment is a huge player in IQ. I want to be better educated as to the history and causes of the Flynn effect. It isn’t just a minor detail it is a flawed argument that well meaning but ignorant people use all the time to discredit IQ testing.
    thanks again

  50. Might be continued education, but I am a bit skeptical about that.

  51. Xavier says:

    I’m interested in looking into the specific data behind the graph you have at the beginning of this article. Do you remember where you found this, or was it something you created yourself?

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