Another Thought: The Limits of the Flynn Effect?

Interesting things that make me wonder about the validity of both IQ but also the Flynn effect, and if they are valid, the implications are weird.  We saw steady significant increases in non-verbal IQ areas by about half a standard deviation, but verbal IQ apparently was not ever significantly effected.  There have been reports about drops in IQ about the most developed nations since the mid-1990s, but even Flynn’s own research indicated that the trend was down in the UK and he blamed educational programs.  It seems similar trends have happened in the US.  It’s funny because I have cited the Flynn effect as proof for environmental and educational inputs on IQ but seems that there is a limit and even at a certain point, things actually go backwards in the most developed nations.

This, by the way, indicates that education reforms in the US and UK may have actually had negative “Intelligence” effects. Not just educational effects.  Even if they are not the source–and I actually I do think the larger problems most likely are to be cultural and economic–they have relatively no effect.  Flynn himself says that nutrition cannot be the explanatory source anymore.

it has been noted that “underdeveloped” nations do not well on the IQ tests, and there is generally understanding of some cultural bias there.  This is probably the case, but the Flynn DOES apply in those countries if one sees long periods of relative piece.

IQ is weird.


Flynn, J. R. (2009). “Requiem for nutrition as the cause of IQ gains: Raven’s gains in Britain 1938–2008”. Economics & Human Biology 7: 18–27.

Teasdale TW, Owen DR (2008). “Secular declines in cognitive test scores: A reversal of the Flynn Effect” (PDF). Intelligence 36 (2): 121–6.

Gray, Richard (February 7, 2009). “British teenagers have lower IQs than their counterparts did 30 years ago”. London: The Telegraph.


5 thoughts on “Another Thought: The Limits of the Flynn Effect?

  1. The topics of your posts seem different lately. I was wondering what has got you thinking along these lines. Is there a connection in your thoughts or mood between Coates’ liberalism, the Flynn Effect, and Cobain’s influence?

    Anyway, as for this post specifically, I immediately thought about all of the economic, political, and social changes that have happened in recent decades. I’m sure you can think of them all, without me listing them. Besides education, do you think all of these other changes may be altering the previous trends in IQ improvement?

    Also, what about demographics. Are there no improvements of average IQ in any demographic? I know that, for example, the trends have slowed down for the upper classes. There might be a ceiling on how much IQ can be raised, at least with present conditions and methods. But I’m wondering about the poor, especially the poorest of the poor. Are they seeing IQ increases?

    • “Are they seeing IQ increases?”

      Yes, I think, but not much. For most poor rural people I have met, those kinds of abstract skills are not nearly as important as practical skills, which you and I can’t even imagine. This really hit me in native villages (Zapotec and Mixtec) in Southern Mexico where women were hand-making large tortillas the traditional way. It involved skills I didn’t have, but the group I was working with was trying to teach basic things about figuring out time costs and inputs because while it relevant to these families moving up in the economy, it is not relevant to surviving day-to-day.

      “There might be a ceiling on how much IQ can be raised”

      I suspect there is. The statistics on education in the oldest developed economies are similar: UK, US, and France tend to mirror each other at the bottom of the OECD education rankings. Why? I don’t know, but the trends have been set downward since the 1970s. That is when the wealth of those areas, and the truly universalization of secondary education began, and while we have seen achievement gaps strink prior to 2000, we did NOT see an overall achievement improvement since the early 1970s without a reframing of criteria, and even that, the gains are minor.

    • “The topics of your posts seem different lately. I was wondering what has got you thinking along these lines. Is there a connection in your thoughts or mood between Coates’ liberalism, the Flynn Effect, and Cobain’s influence?”

      I get tired of writing the same things about the history of the left, and I am trying to spend less time in the toxic environments of social media while I am recovering or doing artistic work. So whatever comes into my mind, I write about here hoping that someone will try to help me clarify the movement.

      I will be posting some more reviews on books about the history of the left, but a human probably should be interested in a diversity of topics.

  2. What do you think about the relationship of abstract thinking and modern individualism? I particularly had in mind people living a traditional lifestyle with concrete relationships of commmunity, kinship, and group identity, What is the practical value and application of abstract thinking and modern individualism? At what costs are such things promoted?

    • The costs is that abstraction of life into abstract capital. I blame it on capitalism being liberating (in a real sense) by division of labor, but this itself makes abstract learning more and more necessary whereas things like physical skills that involve multiple complex systems get blunted. The later shows up more on tests, but as humans, the former has helped us survive until we had our current economic civilization.

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