New Perspectives On The Flynn Effect

Have you heard of the “Flynn Effect”? It’s the trend of rising scores on IQ tests over the past century. It was named after the political scientist James Flynn, who first identified the phenomenon.

Flynn has now written a new book, Are We Getting Smarter? Samantha Murphy writes about it on the Scientific American website, and makes three particularly interesting points:

• “The average person today scores 30 points higher on IQ tests than his or her grandparents did. [But it's not the case, Flynn argues, that we are born with more mental potential than our ancestors. Rather,] because our modern brain is expected to handle higher-level cognitive tasks from a very young age, our mental capabilities have changed. In particular, we have become more adept at learning theoretical concepts in science and technology.”

• “There is a catch to this IQ trend, one that Flynn calls a ‘bright tax.’ The more intelligent the person, the steeper the decrease in IQ score as a person ages, sometimes by more than 20 points. The cause of this decline remains a puzzle. Flynn reasons that our modern brains require more maintenance to stay sharp, so as we age and use our analytical skills less, our IQ may drop quite steeply.”

• “The manner in which we interpret IQ scores can literally mean life or death. Flynn argues that the U.S. Supreme Court needs to reconsider how it uses IQ scores when determining a person’s fate. Convicts who have scores below a certain number cannot be put to death, but with this IQ inflation over time more convicts will face the death penalty unless IQ scores are standardized across different tests and time frames.” (Read more here.)

Fascinating. The Flynn Effect is a familiar notion to me, but these new takes are really thought-provoking.

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