Last night's second news article, "Are We Getting Smarter?", is a companion article to a similar discussion, "New model of IQ development accounts for ways that even small environmental changes can have a big impact, while still crediting the influence of genes", found in Science_News_Miscellaneous. These news articles discuss an article appearing in this month's Psychological Review (a journal of the American Psychological Association), entitled, "Heritability Estimates Versus Large Environmental Effects: The IQ Paradox Resolved " by William T. Dickens and James R. Flynn.
As this page has discussed ad nauseum, IQ scores have been rising in all the developed nations of the world in which the administration of IQ tests has been sufficiently widespread to detect this hefty increments. These gains, although only a few tenths of an IQ point per year, have by now reached massive proportions. In the United States, the average citizen from 1918, if transported by a time machine to the year 2001, would score about 75 on a currently-normed IQ test. Conversely, the average U. S. citizen today, taking a test like the 1916 revision of the Stanford Binet or the Army Alpha Test, will score about IQ 133---eligible for Mensa in 1918 (had Mensa existed in 1918)! Tonight's Newsweek article, above, says that IQ's have increased 27 points in Britain since 1942 (4+ points per decade), and 22 points in Argentina since 1964 (6 points per decade).
These gains have been greatest on the culture-reduced tests that are held to be emblematic of fluid intelligence, and least on the vocabulary-arithmetic-general knowledge tests that are more culturally influenced. On the Raven Progressive Matrices, a pattern-eduction test that is considered the best of breed, above-average British subjects born in 1877 averaged a score of 23 correct answers to the test's 60 questions, corresponding to a present-day IQ of 74, while matched British subjects born in 1967 averaged 55 right, earning an IQ of 121. These gains are deemed too large to be genetic in origin. On the other hand, attempts to create durable IQ gains by manipulating the environment have been virtually unsuccessful.
One of the consequences of the Flynn Effect is that the apparent decline in the IQ's of people as they age is a function of IQ tests being made more dificult rather than of age-related cognitive declines. If the elderly are given IQ tests from the era in which they were first tested, they will score as high on such tests as they did in their youth.
Dr. Flynn has argued against these rises in IQ representing a true rise in intelligence, observing that if our grandparents had such low IQ's, they wouldn't have been able to run the world. Apparently, however, he has changed his mind. In this landmark paper, he and Dr. Dickens have concluded that stimulating environments, extended over long periods of time, can boost IQ's by very large amounts. Perhaps the brain is like a muscle: use it or lose it. Drs. Flynn and Dickens have concluded that an intellectually stimulating environment may feed on itself, amplifying native propensities toward intellectual prowess. When an individual, as an adult, seeks out mental stimulation and a mentally stimulating surround, they may retain and potentiate their mental powers through positive feedback loops. Similarly, unhappy experiences may lead to negative feedback loops. They postulate that today's world is much more demanding and stimulating than the world of 1901. The authors say, that improving IQs in childhood is not the way to raise the IQs of adults. Adult IQ is influenced mainly by adult environment.
The researchers state,
"People's IQ's are affected by both environment and genes but....their environments are matched to their IQ's."
The researchers postulate that genetic influence causes people to seek out certain environments. "A naturally verbal toddler will likely elicit hour after hour of reading from her parents. 'That will amplify her cognitive gifts even if her 'verbal IQ genes' are only the slightest bit smarter than other kids'." This becomes a positive feedback loop. "If you have a biological edge in intelligence, for instance, you will likely enjoy school, books, puzzles, asking questions and thinking abstractly. All of which will tend to amplify your innate brainpower. 'Higher IQ leads one into better environments, causing still higher IQ,' say Dickens and Flynn. Thanks to that multiplier effect, you will likely study even more, haunt the library, pester adults with questions and choose bright peers as friends, boosting your intelligence yet again." A modest genetic advantage turns into a huge performance advantage, says Dickens.
"But if you start out with a slight deficit in IQ, you may get frustrated by reading and cogitating, stumble in school and grow to hate learning, reinforcing your genetic bent. A modest initial difference again gets pumped up."
The Newsweek article goes on to say that an enriched environment will produce approximately the same IQ gains in someone with average intelligence as they will for someone with an inborn edge on intelligence. In other words, you can overcome an intelligence deficit by seeking an intellectually stimulating environment, and although you may start from a lower level, your gains in intelligence will be as great as those who enter the "program" with a higher IQ.
When the gifted child grows up, what happens then depends upon whther the gifted adult enters into a stimulating mental environment.
To some up their thesis, "genes working though environment account for the lion's share of individual differences in IQ, but only because genes lead you to certain life experiences which collectively form your environment. It is that environment which directly fosters IQ differences."
These are revolutionary ideas, and they will have to run a gauntlet of critical review. What happens to severely-gifted children reared in families in which there is no emphasis upon matters of the mind? I'm led to think of Ellen Winner's Gifted Children, "Myths and Realities", in which she describes two children, Charles and Eitan, who were extremely fond of drawing. Both boys loved to draw, and drew incessantly. Eitan was a drawing prodigy, and his drawings show an understanding of perspective and realistic details. Charles, on the other hand, drew only crudely compared with Eitan. Charles was a little ahead of his age level, but his comparable efforts didn't yield comparable results. Other example's might be Bo Jackson's and Michael Jordan's attempts to become baseball players. "Practice makes perfect" works only up to a point.
Dr. Flynn appears to me to be a very conscientious researcher who's seeking the truth, whatever it may be. Unfortunately, Flynn's and Dicken's paper isn't available to the public, and there doesn't seem to be a lot of reportorial reaction to it yet. This is an extremely important paper, and it will be interesting to see what responses it elicits.
4/21/2001: Although I worked several hours on what I'm trying to assemble, I only scratched the surface. Maybe I should present my questions piecemeal, which I'll try to do in the morning. Today, I worked on the Flynn Effect, trying to organize various perspectives and their consequences.
4/20/2001: What I intend to present is going to take more time than I can devote to it this evening. Basically what it's going to say is that it seems to me that there are a number of unanswered questions regarding very high IQ's, and that there seems to have been little effort made to explore this topic. Miraca Gross observes that she is the first to investigate the profoundly gifted since Leta Hollingworth. In her book, "Gifted Grownups", Mary Lou Streznewski says that she is the first person to write a book discussing the problems and characteristics of gifted adults(!).
Tonight's lead article, "Researchers lay plans to build 500-GHz transistors ", concerns the use of exotic materials such as gallium arsenide and indium antimonide. However, considering the fact that ten years ago, the highest transistors speeds thought to be theoretically possible with these same exotic materials was only 500 MHz, this is a 1,000-fold improvement in 10 years, at least for individual transistors. These results are very important because computers can't really go much faster than their clock speeds when running single-stream, serial computations, and they can only go at their clock speeds by pipelining data in a kind of assembly line arrangement. (Of course, they can process in parallel many, many times as fast as long as they can process serially as long as the jobs they're performing lend themselves to parallel computation.) It's interesting to note that Hughes Electronics hit 340 GHz in 1992, Nippon Electric reached 350 GHz in 1998, and now, Fujitsu has gotten to 386 to 398 GHz in 2001. They're obviously straining at gnats over a period of years to get to 400 GHz 500 GHz might be an elastic limit for transistor speeds. Still, it would allow some headroom.
Mega Test Correlations with Other Tests
4/18/2001: The Kearneys have been kind enough to forward the first item on tonight's Science News. It may complement last night's article about the cyber eel. Please click here for the rest of tonight's discussion.