American Scientist discusses the trend for changes in how well people score on intelligence tests and notes that the Flynn effect, whereby the population has been scoring increasingly well on intelligence tests over time, seems to be slowing down or reversing in some places.
It is well-known is psychology that performance on cognitive tests changes over time and across populations, which is why the most widely used tests (particularly the Wechsler series) have different versions for different countries, and are re-released every few years with new comparison data.
An IQ score is always relative to the average performance of the rest of the population, so an IQ of 100 always means you score the same as the average of the population on a current test.
As new tests are released, this average may shift, so it is difficult to directly compare IQ results from previous versions of a test.
On old tests, however, it was noticed by Flynn that people were scoring better by about 3 points per decade. The American Scientist article notes that this effect is starting to slow down or reverse in some places though.
Does this mean we’re becoming less intelligent? Probably not. It likely reflects the fact that the skill set of population is changing and that we become practiced at different tasks at different rates as modern life develops.
As an aside, IQ tests considered trustworthy by psychologists rarely go above 160, so anyone quoting a 160+ IQ is likely to be talking nonsense.
Link to article ‘Smart as We Can Get?’.
Link to Wikipedia article on the Flynn effect.
5 thoughts on “The Flynn effect is reversing”
I disagree with your comment that people quoting IQs over 160 are basically talking bullshit.
The problem with IQs over 160 is not that they don’t exist, is that they aren’t very accurate, because there are so few people whose IQ scores get that high.
I’ve been scored with an IQ over 160 at least once… 167 actually… I still have the score report someplace and yes, it was scored by a real psychologist… but since IQ scores are basically meaningless because they can’t be compared across tests, I prefer the percentiles I get…
so please, let’s be a little more chary with your choice of words.
As always, the mere mention of IQ tests – no matter how negative – is enough to get people score-dropping. Can’t have people questioning the unique snowflake status that integer apparently bestows on them, can we?
The original Stanford-Binet Test and later the Wechsler Series Tests are basically tests of ability to communicate in a culturally competent manner, but more accurate instruments to measure basic integration of general knowledge in order to solve problems and think in an organized fashion.
The formula to determine IQ is based upon the relationship between the rough score, the standard mean of 100 points, and the individual’s chronological age which then is used to determine a Mental Age. At age 11 my Mental Age was actually nearer 16 according to testing. At age 25 the score becomes irrelavant as most folks have acquired enough general knowledge from experience to rely upon memory instead of problem solving skills to answer many of the questions on such tests.
The speed of recall, the ability to organize a method to find a solution to the question/problem, and the ability to perform basic language and math skills quickly are what is measured.
Folks with IQs below 75 are considered Mentally Retarded. Varying degrees of “retardation” are measured as Mild, Moderate or Severe. Folks with “Rocket Scientist/Einstein IQs” are often people with excellent communication skills, superior basic math skills, but most importantly are people who know how, unconsciously through conditioning and learning, to organize memory and utilize their stored data effectivley and quickly.
IQs measured above 160 are not rare, but fall at a couple of Standard Deviations off of the established norm on the Bell Curve. Folks who possess such IQs are often unstable as they are not able to get the information in their heads to work for them in social and vocational situations. Hence “Geeks” and the tendency for Bi-Polar types and many folks diagnosed with other mood and cognitive disorders to possess higher than average IQs.
It’s a function of integrating knowledge in a reverse pyramid fashion. The more you know in general the easier it is to figure out how to solve problems and learn more. Just packing a whole bunch of knowledge into children’s heads at an early age does not necessarilly improve the quality of their future success if they don’t have a quality of life which permits healthy personality and character development, allows for healthy and balanced incorporation and integration of the knowledge into a pattern of thinking which is orderly yet flexible without creating obsessive or easily distracted cognitive types with lot’s of knowledge and little comfort or mastery of their own internal process.
Lots of schizophrenic and bipolar patients have very high IQs. Many borderline and OCD types have very high IQs. Folks who score lower on the scale are often individuals who have no genetically inherited or organic problems at all. Instead they are folks who have software problems due to blocks established to effective recall and integration of knowledge which results in failure to integrate new information and solve problems effectively. Cognitive therapies based in learning theory which helps establish new patterns and pathways for recall and integration of new knowledge for more effective problem solving is highly effective.
Many folks who think too well and possess too much useful information which they are not in a position to use are just as frustrated as individuals who have difficulty with simple tasks and problems. A high IQ is not necessarilly desireable or comfortable for folks with little or no outlet for their knowledge, skills, insights, problem solving ability and creativity. It can be a living hell for less privileged members of our society or for folks who, due to social conditions, class issues, finances, or the appearance of some other type of disability would be institutionalized.
Consider our Dr Stephen Hawking and his incredible brilliance. Most folks would assume he were not the incredible Nobel Prize winning Astro and Theoretical Physicist he is based upon appearances wouldn’t they?
How many folks who are disadvantaged by physical disabilities, racial and religious descrimination, criminalization, impaired by disenfranchisement due to economic factors, lack of support services and opportunities have the same potential and are trapped in their existences by a society which looks upon “GIFTED” kids as a waste of their school district’s resources.
I was told at 11 I belonged in a GIFTED program and the Special Ed Class for the Disabled Kids after I was placed their for testing and then remainstreamed. My district did not have a Gifted Program, and the school districts which did had limited seats. The district did not want to send their daily allotted per diem of State Aid for my daily attendance in another school district and my family did not possess the resources to send me to a private school so I got sent back to suffer until I dropped out at 14 and went to work in warehouses, factories and kitchens, tossed a frisbee on the lawn, did volunteer work, played the guitar and got into a bit of trouble here and there with folks in my community who determined that I was incorrigible, antisocial, a “Hippy Dope Fiend”, disrespectful type who had no respect for the AUTHORITY or AUTHORITARIANS.
I have no respect for folks in authority who have no respect for intelligence, creativity, the needs of others or other’s ability to think circles around the “DULL NORMAL” Authoritarian types who think title and position, money, a sheepskin or a badge automatically confers superior knowledge and the right to dictate right and wrong, appropriate behavior, appropriate language, of label folks who can think circles around them but due to the disadvantaged genius types relative position in society they are frustrated, abused, isolated, psychiatrically labeled, criminalized and eventually driven to become unstable with unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Hence the “Beautiful Mind” scenario, and the tendency to find Autistic Savants, and brilliant creative thinkers among the people labeled with psychiatric or social diagnoses secondary to dieenfranchisement and abuse who are discarded by our society in institutions OTHER THEN OXFORD, HARVARD, YALE, PRINCETON, MIT, etc…
Many folks at he opposite end of the spectrum can learn to learn by creating new pathways through cognitive therapy approaches to effectivley imnprove their ability to bypass functional and acquired blocks to effective thoght processing. In many cases, neuroplasticity and cognitive approaches can improve outcomes for those individuals with genetic and or other organic disruptions of their neurophysiological deficits in the areas of accessing and utilizing memory.
You say: “A high IQ is not necessarilly [sic] desireable [sic] or comfortable for folks with little or no outlet for their knowledge, skills, insights, problem solving ability and creativity. It can be a living hell for less privileged members of our society or for folks who, due to social conditions, class issues, finances, or the appearance of some other type of disability would be institutionalized.”
Nah. Not even close. To suggest that people who are “less privileged”, etc. would be better off if they were just a little more stupid is so, so typical of the elitist, condescending, paternalistic types who condescend to preach to us on this subject. Kschltr’s commentary is wrong, wrong, wrong on many points.
I agree. Caucasian male 33 160-162 administered by state prison system when I was 18.
I do live in hell. I predicted 9-11 and the depression and the assassination of congressmen. I went to Mensa they are a joke. Ego stoking misogynists.