Flynn Effect, In Dr. Flynn's Own Words



    Tonight's lead news article, Flynn and Dickens, In Their Own Words , presents an explanation of Drs. Flynn and Dicken's new theory concerning nature versus nurture. What the theory proposes is basically the idea that the competitive bar in mental performance has continually been raised since the closing years of the 19th century. Cultural expectations of what may be expected from people--children and adults--has evidently steadily risen since the onset of the industrial revolution. At this point, I need to interject a personal note.
    I believe that the Flynn Effect, far from being confined to the intellectual arena, is also underway in other realms of endeavor such as sports, dance, ice skating, music, and other venues of human interest. I have remarked many times over the past few years about the incredible performances that children give today in all these areas compared to what we did in the thirties. We had no coaching, and the standards of excellence we had to meet were minimal compared to today's performance levels. Two years ago, Tommie Jean and I attended an ice skating show in Pell City, Alabama (a suburb of Birmingham). The children's performances were at par with what we've seen in the Winter Olympics, on TV. (I'm sure they weren't really at par with Olympic finalists, but they were stunning compared to what we expected.) I grew up in ice-skating country (northern Ohio). We skated by the hour on Silver Lake, but we were clowns compared to what those Pell City kids could do. A similar situation exists with every kind of ballgame. We had a very desultory attitude toward football, baseball, and basketball. Today's children are better at 10 than we were at 16. So I can believe that a combination of coaching and elevated expectations has brought kids today to levels that we wouldn't have dreamed possible in 1939, shy of the movies.
    It's worth noting that all of these activities involve primarily mental processing (coaching and training) rather than physical prowess
    What's surprising about this subject is that IQ's can be raised so massively after all the failed attempts to boost children's IQ's in major studies. We can do in the field what we can't reproduce in the lab. I've thought for a long time that many of the experiments to boost one's own children's IQ's have been successful. It's too much of a coincidence that John Stuart Mill came out so inordinately intelligent when his father made a project out of currying intellect in him. I think the same thing holds true for William Sidis. If IQ were independent of environment, then Boris and Sarah Sidis would have produced a very bright child, since they were very bright parents, but little Billy wouldn't have been so off-the-wall intelligent. A similar situation probably holds true with Norbert Wiener, and with certain other cases with which I'm familiar.
   In other words, efforts to boost IQ, when they've occurred in the home with the force of parental influence behind them, might have worked. (I don't know how much has been tried that didn't work, so I'm speaking here as an ignorant amateur.)
   If IQ gains began as early as 1870 and ran three points per decade, as Dr. Flynn believes, by now they would amount to 39 points looking backward, or 64 points looking forward. Even if we assume that this refers to ratio IQ's, it's still enough gain to take one's breath away. The average citizen today would place at the 1-in-30,000 level (four sigma, IQ 164) on tests normalized for 1870. In fact, British citizens born in 1877 and given the Raven Progressive Matrices in 1940 had an IQ of 60 when measured against comparable British subjects born in 1963 and given the same test in 1991.(This 40-point rise in IQ occurred over a 90-year span rather than a 130-year interval because pure "g", as measured by the Raven Test, has risen nearly twice as fast as the amalgamation of fluid plus crystallized intelligence that is measured by such tests as the WAIS and the Stanford Binet.) Hans Eysenck has concluded that, on balance, the geniuses of the past probably had IQ's that fell three or four sigma above the mean. This means that the average British citizen of today is as bright as such past geniuses as Thomas Locke or David Hume. So what of the above-average citizen? There are claims that the Flynn Effect applies only to the lower to middle ranges of IQ. That might be argued in the light of the idea that people who function at higher IQ levels have already driven themselves to the upper limits of human capability. However, that would produce some strange effects. If someone with IQ of 100, as measured by today's (2001) IQ norms, scores, on average, 133 on the 1916 revision of the Stanford Binet, and someone with an IQ of 140, as measured on today's IQ tests, scores a 143 on the 1916 revision of the S-B---only 10 points more on the 1916 test than someone with a present-day IQ of 100---the Gaussian distribution on the 1916 S-B would fall off extremely steeply, falling from its maximum (0.4) to almost zero (0.0175) over an interval of 10 points rather than 40 points. This should be easy to test. I don't have a copy of the 1916 S-B, but I do have copies of the 1931 Henmon Nelson Test. All we need are a few individuals (e. g., children) with IQ's of 100 and a few with IQ's of 140 to check this for ourselves.
    If the Flynn Effect does apply to higher IQ's, then we are seeing some very high IQ's indeed when calibrated against older tests. And looking at the incidence of precocity I see around me, I can well believe that to be the case. Leta Hollingsworth mentions that human IQ's probably don't go above 200. None of the Quiz Kids scored significantly above 200. Only one of the Quiz Kids began reading as early as 2, but there are individuals within Tommie's family who started reading at two. And there are levels of precocity that would have been unthinkable in the 1930's. It made national news in the 40's when Arthur Greenwood scored 205 on an IQ test (in Florida). Justin Chapman made a 298+ on the third revision of the Stanford Binet administered to him by Dr. Linda Silverman. And this was on a 1973 test.
    Dr. Flynn mentions in his paper that, beginning in 1950, gains became restricted to improvements in problem-solving abilities rather than in arithmetic, vocabulary, and general information. These areas more or less froze at their 1950 levels, and may even have dropped slightly, as registered by SAT scores. Dr. Flynn says,
   "After 1950, some nations such as the US and Britain have provided test information that allows us to break down global IQ gains into their components. The gains begin to show a new and peculiar pattern. They are missing or small on the kind of IQ tests closest to school-taught material (vocabulary, arithmetic and so forth), but they are huge on tests that emphasize on-the-spot problem solving (working out what verbal abstractions have in common, finding the missing piece of a matrices pattern, or arranging pictures to tell a story)."
    What's so extremely important about the Flynn Effect... important beyond the rise in IQ's that has occurred... is what it says about the possibility of raising one's IQ through due diligence. Apparently, that can be done when the effort is made over a lifetime. It also helps explain why above an IQ of 120, there is only a small correlation between IQ and success in one's chosen field. There are, by definition, 1,000 times as many individuals with IQ's of 120+ as there are those with IQ's of 160+. It wouldn't take many IQ's at the lower end of the range to drag down a  group average. If only one in 100 with IQ's in the vicinity of 120 make it into the group of "most-illustrious performers", and the one person with an IQ of 160 is also there, the average IQ of the "most illustrious performers" would be about 124.
    The table below, taken from Grady Towers' "The Empty Promise" showcases this phenomenon.

Distribution of intelligence test scores for five general fields of the doctorate
and for the total doctorate population                                           
Army Standard  Approx. gen                     Doctorates (N)                    
 Scale dist    population      All     Phys     Biol     Social   Arts,   Educ-
               age 32, 1958  fields   sciences sciences sciences human.   cation 
170-and up           530       46        20        1       15       7        3
160-169            2,670      101        46       11       27      14        3
150-159           12,150      337       153       37       93      35       19
140-149           39,250      530       246       67      112      74       31
130-139          108,000      826       298      150      179     116       83
120-129          218,200      806       243      153      214      89      107
110-119          361,800      520       140      119      106      65       90
100-109          457,400      298        64       79       67      28       60
 90-99           457,400       81        19       19       12       8       23
 80-89           361,800       15         3        4        2                6
 70-79           218,200        7         1        5                1
Below 70         162,600

Total          2,400,000     3567      1233      645      827     437      425
100 (mean)                    130.8     134.7    126.1    132.3   132.1    123.3
No information               4220       931      676      924     771      918 
Among those with IQ's of 170-and-up, 46 out of 530, or about 1 in 12, got Ph. D.'s. 
Among those with IQ's in the 160-169 range, 101 out of 2,670, or about 1 in 26, got Ph. D.s. 
For IQ's between 150 and 159, 337 out of 12,150, or 1 in 36 got Ph. D.'s. 
At 140-149, the ratio was 1 in 74.
At IQ 130-139, 1 in 131 got a Ph. D. 
At 120-129, the figure was 1 in 271.
At 110-119, the incidence was 1 in 694.
At 100-109, the ratio was 1 in 1,535.
    This includes all Ph. D.'s in all fields. Obviously, a far higher fraction of those with IQ's above 170 got Ph. D.'s than those with IQ's below 120.
    Genetic intelligence plays an uncertain role in all this. We might expect that innate intelligence would be normally distributed, like height, but the brain may be more flexible than one's height.

    One of the facts that outrages me is that, as a society, we will go all-out to promote our children in sports and the arts. Sports and the arts will deliver nothing but entertainment to the world. But when it comes to coaching and promoting our children and adults to find a cure for cancer or diabetes, or to devise ways of promoting better interrelationships among us we turn a deaf ear. We subsist on dessert, and throw our fruits and vegetables away. We're either stupid or crazy.