More On Flynn and the Flynn Effect

The Flynn Effect has been discussed on previous healthy memory blog posts.  The Flynn effect refers to the gain in IQs over time.  IQs seem to have risen about 3 points per decade since about 1930. Gains have been larger for fluid than for crystallized intelligence. A wide range of reasons for this increase have been offered to include nutrition, schooling, urbanization, technology, television, the preschool home environment, and so forth.  Originally Flynn did not endorse any of these causes and questioned whether gains in intelligence were real.

From what healthy memory read in “GRIT,” it appears that Flynn has modified his views.    Digging through the raw scores of IQ tests taken over the years, he found that the improvement on some tests were much bigger than others.  The IQ tests had climbed most sharply for scores assessing abstract reasoning.  For example young children today might answer the question, “Dogs and rabbits:  How are they alike? by noting that  both are alive, or that they’re both animals.  These answers would only earn a half credit.  If the child noted that they’re both mammals, she would be awarded a full credit for that insight.  In contrast, young children a century ago might look at you quizzically and note, “dogs have rabbits.”  That response would earn zero points.  So Flynn believes that we are getting better and better at abstract reasoning.

To explain why this improvement might be occurring he told a story about basketball and television.  Flynn played basketball and remembers the game changing even within a few years.  Once television became a fixture in homes and the telecasting of basketball games on television, more kids started playing the game, trying to emulate what they were seeing on television.  The kids started trying left-handed layups, crossover dribbles, graceful hook shots, and other skills that were routine for the star players on TV.  By getting better each kid inadvertently enriched the learning environment for the kids being played against.  One thing that makes a player better at basketballs playing with players who are just a little more skilled.

Flynn calls this virtuous cycle of skill improvement the social multiplier effect, and he used the same logic to explain generational changes in abstract reasoning.  Over the past century more and more of our jobs and daily lives asks to think analytically, logically.  We goto school longer, and in school, we’re asked more and more, to reason rater than to rely on rote memorization.  These effects are multiplied socially, because each of us enriches the environment of all of us.

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