From the multitudes of research that has been done on intelligence, an interesting phenomenon has been uncovered by scientists: worldwide IQ test scores have been steadily increasing over time; in other words, newer generations have been consistently outperforming older ones. This phenomenon has been dubbed as the ‘Flynn effect’, aptly named after the New Zealand political scientist, James Flynn, who had first documented this phenomenon in the 1980s.
It has been found that IQ test scores tend to increase by an average of 10 points per generation. But why is this the case? Well, the Flynn effect theory posits that the continual increase in IQ scores per generation is mainly attributed to improvements in access to and quality of education and nutrition.
Other minor influencing factors also include the fact that literacy rates have been steadily rising, and people are reading more, as well as the invention and innovation of new technologies forcing people to think more abstractly.
Legitimacy of the Flynn Effect
Since the theory’s inception, the Flynn effect has largely been confirmed by numerous studies from all over the world. It has been acknowledged that the same pattern of increasing IQ levels per generation can be found for virtually every type of intelligence test, and amongst every type of group.
The rate of increase in IQ levels for each group, however, tended to vary quite significantly. The highest recorded Flynn effect was observed in Belgium, Holland, and Israel, at 20 points per generation. The lowest, on the other hand, was observed in Denmark and Sweden, at 10 points per generation. It has also been found that the rates at which IQ levels are increasing worldwide is also accelerating to unprecedented rates.
To illustrate the extremities in which the Flynn effect’s implications can entail, Flynn himself had found data on reported IQ test results on Raven’s Progressive Matrices that spanned for a complete century. After much calculation and testing, he then concluded that someone who scored among the best 10% at the start of the century would be categorized among the weakest 5% by that century’s end!
The Reverse Flynn Effect
Notice how we said largely at the start of the above paragraph? Well, there are studies in Denmark, Norway, and the United Kingdom that show otherwise—not in that the Flynn effect was never real, but more so that it was real but has already ended, and that IQ levels are, in fact, decreasing instead of increasing.
However, one must also note that despite these claims, there has not yet been any widely acknowledged explanations or expository for the existence of a reverse Flynn effect, though there may very well be in the future (so keep your eyes open!).
All things considered, it is still important to note: it is more likely that the Flynn effect is not yet a thing of past, though it could be in the future, though this is rather unlikely. After all, the ever-increasing complexity of life that is inherent to modernity is more than likely to entail further stimulation of the mind, thereby facilitating increased complexity in said mind and higher IQ levels.
The growing use of educational tools such as computers and games, along with the earlier introduction of such tools to younger generation are also likely to boost general knowledge, abstract reasoning, intellectual agility, and problem-solving capabilities.
Also, if you’re looking to read up more on intelligence or IQ, consider checking out our article on The Usage of IQ Tests and The Types of IQ Tests. Alternatively, you can simply click here for a full list of related topics.