Flynn Effect - More Than Just IQ?






    The first item in tonight's news is A Synopsis of Flynn and Dickens' Math Model of the Flynn Effectthat appeared in the Psychological Review. The second of these articles, The Flynn effect and modern life, describes the first. Both of these have been contributed by the Kearneys. Thanks, Kevin, Cassidy, Mike, and Maeghan.
    I have spent the afternoon at Little League games. I'm stunned by the proficiency with which children play these games compared to what we were doing 50 years ago. I now perceive this as the "Flynn Effect applied to other capabilities", and it doesn't seem untoward that intelligence could possibly be coached and developed in this same way. Tommie Jean and I have seen similar stunning children's performances in ice skating and dancing... performances far beyond our own puerile competencies as children. Presumably, this is a consequence of far higher expectations, combined with formal training. The bar has been raised. It's interesting to note that such efforts to boost early IQ's as the Milwaukee Project and the Abecedarian Project did, in fact, boost IQ's substantially (32 points in the Milwaukee Project) while the children were in the program. However, the IQ differentials between the Milwaukee Project's test arm and its control arm gradually faded over the next eight years, dropping to a 10-point difference by age fourteen. Furthermore, by the end of the first grade, there was only a slight difference in academic performance between the experimental arm and the control arm, together with other signs suggesting that the program had (unintentionally) been "teaching to the test". In the case of the Abecedarian Project, there was a 5-point difference in IQ's 10 years later, and, in contrast to the Milwaukee Project, this elevation of IQ was substantiated by a comparable enhancement in academic performances ("The g Factor", Arthur Jensen, Praeger Publishers, 1998, p. 342).
     In contemplating the Milwaukee Project and the Abecedarian Project, we have to realize that
(1) the experimentalists couldn't influence the children 24 hours a day the way parents and siblings can; and
(2) the program ended at the beginning of the first grade.
    Drs. Flynn and Dickens are postulating that when intellectual enrichment goes on year-after-year with the active influence of parents, peers, and the demands of society, gains in intellectual performance might become sizable.
    Against this must be weighed the active influence of parents, peers, and the demands of society upon the IQ's of the retarded, and the limited results that can be achieved. It would seem that the standards of society must be tugging at the retarded, tending to pull up their IQ's.
    This all leaves moot the role of innate (genetic) intelligence. In any field of endeavor, some individuals have greater potential than others. A five-foot, six-inch, 120-pound "shortie" probably can't become a Michael Jordan or a Bo Jackson. A homely woman probably may not find it as easy to become a soap opera beauty as a woman with a better-suited natural endowment. Height is distributed along a Gaussian curve, except for the wings, where it deviates from a true Gaussian in a manner similar to IQ. Is an innate "baseline" IQ distributed in this same way? Also, if the bright tend to become brighter (because of positive feedback for the slightly-advantaged), and the dull tend to become duller (because of negative feedback for the slightly-disadvantaged), it would seem as though this would lead to a bimodal (two-humped) distribution rather than causing everyone to cluster in the center. And how do we explain children who start to talk at a few months of age, or children like "Adam Konantovich" who was pronounced by his pediatrician to be neurologically exceedingly advanced for a newborn?
    At the same time, a powerful environmental tail wind would seem to be required to explain a 33-point-or-greater boost in IQ's (as seen prospectively, looking forward from 1916) over an 85-year period.
    Undoubtedly, the mathematical treatment in the full Psychological Review article addresses these questions.