What Is Intelligence? Beyond The Flynn Effect
Introduction (Via American Scientist)
James Flynn is best known for having discovered a stubborn fact. In a series of papers culminating in the classic 1987 article “Massive IQ Gains in 14 Nations: What IQ Tests Really Measure,” he established that in every country where consistent IQ tests have been given to large numbers of people over time, scores have been rising as far back as the records go, in some cases to the early 20th century. What Is Intelligence? is Flynn’s attempt to explain this phenomenon, now known as the Flynn effect.
Excerpts (Via American Scientist)
“Thus two test takers who give exactly the same answers can get different IQ scores if normed against different reference samples. Test makers periodically renorm their tests, keeping the mean at 100, but the same score can represent very different levels of absolute performance.”
“On average, measured IQ has been rising at roughly 3 points per decade across the industrialized world for as far back as the data go. This means that someone who got a score of 100 on an IQ test in 1900 would get a score of only 70 for the same answers in 2000. This is the Flynn effect.”
Scores have risen because our way of thinking has shifted, Flynn says—we have been “liberated from the concrete” and have put on “scientific spectacles.” He claims the Flynn effect is a consequence of changes in the way people live and the skills they cultivate—changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution.
Given Flynn’s idea that intelligence is how well and quickly we learn, IQ tests are an odd way to measure it. They do not set learning tasks and measure performance within a fixed time. At best they gauge past learning, which can indirectly measure the capacity to learn quickly and well but would be confounded with things like executive function and current and past motivation.