The Flynn effect is reversing

rubix_cube_solved.jpgAmerican 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.

The science and culture of hallucinated voices

hearing_phrenology.jpgThis week’s ABC Radio All in the Mind had an edition on auditory hallucinations that discusses the experience of ‘hearing voices’ as well as the neuroscience that might explain them.

Hallucinatory voices are still largely mysterious to science. Originally they were linked to psychotic mental illness and particularly schizophrenia, but it later became known that only about 30% of people who hear voices ever become psychiatric patients.

Furthermore, for some people who hear voices, they can seem to exist as separate conscious entities with their own personalities. Someone may experience a number of voices each with a distinct age, sex and accent.

Research has suggested some explanations for why voices occur (it is know that the auditory cortex is activated with hallucinated voices are heard, suggesting that they may be internal thoughts experienced as sound) but many of these other issues are still unresolved.

The programme discusses the current state of research, as well as talking to two voice hearers about the experience itself, including campaigner Ron Coleman who has been particularly active within the Hearing Voices Network.

The network has taken an alternative view to the medical model, which assumes that voices are a symptom of mental disturbance, and encourages hearers to understand their voices in whatever way best promotes successful living.

Link to ABC Radio All in the Mind on hearing voices.
Link to Wikipedia article on hearing voices movement.

The Mask of Sanity

hervey_clekeley.jpgThe complete text of the classic book on psychopaths and the psychopathic personality The Mask of Sanity is available online as a pdf file.

The book was written by psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley (pictured on the left) and is one of the classics in the field. It is still highly regarded for its in-depth case studies of psychopaths.

Contrary to most Hollywood depictions psychopaths are not necessarilly people who enjoy causing pain or suffering, but are thought to lack empathy and, therefore, tend to use violence to acheive an end, without concern about the impact of their actions.

There’s further information on psychopaths and psychopathy here for those wanting an introduction.

Link to complete text of The Mask of Sanity (1.4Mb).
Link to webpage on psychopathy.


information_radio_leaflet.jpgPsyWar is a website dedicated to the dark arts of psychological warfare and propoganda.

It has a huge archive of propoganda and psychological warfare material from wars past, including copies of leaflets dropped into enemy territory to persuade soldiers and civilians that they were fighting for a lost cause.

The website also has articles and analyses of the techniques used in times past (including a fasinating article on the use of rumour campaigns) with commentary on their effectiveness and cultural impact.

It is interesting to compare these historical materials, largely created by government departments, with the increasing trend for corporations to provide ‘psyops’ services on a consultancy basis (as previously reported on Mind Hacks).

More recently, PsyWar reports on how psychological warfare is being used in the current campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Link to PsyWar website.

The genetics of violence

shadow_fist.jpgThere’s a thought-provoking piece over at Brain Ethics about the role of genetics in violence, and particularly the role of a gene that codes for a type of monoamine oxidase enzyme involved in the breakdown of certain neurotransmitters in the brain.

The post reports on recent research led by neuroscientist Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg that found that variants of the MAOA gene predicted amygdala size, and both the response of the amygdala and cingulate cortex.

Both the amygdala and the cingulate cortex have been strongly linked to emotion recognition, and the cingulate cortex to empathy and anticipation.

It may be that differences in these structures may make someone more likely to react violently in certain situations.

The full story is a little more nuanced that this, however, and you’re best visiting Brain Ethics for more comprehensive coverage and analysis.

Link to article ‘MAOA and the risk for impulsivity and violence’.