[Paleopsych] Wired: (Flynn Effect): Dome Improvement

Hannes Eisler he at psychology.su.se
Fri May 6 16:07:38 UTC 2005

Flynn's explanation sounds plausible; it reminds of "idiots savants."

I think you can only interpret the g factor as an 
often misleading indication of an individual's 
attainable ceiling of intelligent performance 
which may be hereditary. Since only few 
environments empower the individual to the 
maximal possible performance, a better measure of 
the hereditary part might be the time, or the 
number of repetitions or rehearsal, necessary to 
achieve a certain gaol, e.g., to solve a problem. 
This would make all tests speed tests, of course.

>Again the notion of heritability is being 
>presented as a meaningful measure of 
>genetic-versus-environmental influence.  Most 
>monozygotic twins are monochorionic, sharing the 
>same choroid plexus and therefore the same blood 
>supply in the womb.  A minority are dichorionic, 
>with identical genes but a different 
>intrauterine blood supply.  Davis, Phelps and 
>Bracha (Schizophrenia Bulletin, 1995, 21, 
>357-366) investigated concordance of 
>schizophrenia in monochorionic and dichorionic 
>monozygotic twins, and found that while the 
>concordance rate for MC MZ twins was 60% (i.e., 
>if one twin is schizophrenic there is a 60% 
>chance the other will be as well), the 
>concordance rate of the DC MZ twins (with 
>identical genes) was 10.7%.  Environmental 
>influences are overwhelming, and they begin at 
>conception: the genes do nothing without 
>environmental influences turning them on and off.
>The Flynn effect suggests that the vast media 
>wasteland may actually function as a vast brain 
>Cheers, Ross
>Ross Buck, Ph. D.
>Professor of Communication Sciences
>     and Psychology
>Communication Sciences U-1085
>University of Connecticut
>Storrs, CT 06269-1085
>fax  860-486-5422
>Ross.buck at uconn.edu
>-----Original Message-----
>From: paleopsych-bounces at paleopsych.org 
>[mailto:paleopsych-bounces at paleopsych.org] On 
>Behalf Of Premise Checker
>Sent: Thursday, May 05, 2005 12:27 PM
>To: paleopsych at paleopsych.org
>Subject: [Paleopsych] Wired: (Flynn Effect): Dome Improvement
>Dome Improvement
>First some remarks from
>From: Hal Finney <hal at finney.org>
>Date: Tue,  3 May 2005 11:03:41 -0700 (PDT)
>To: extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org
>except that the article is now available:
>Wired magazine's new issue has an article on the Flynn Effect, which we
>have discussed here occasionally.  This is probably my favorite Effect,
>so completely extropian and contradictory to the conventional wisdom.
>Curmudgeons throughout the ages have complained about the decay of society
>and how the younger generation is inferior in morals and intelligence
>to their elders.  Likewise modern communications technology is derided:
>TV is a vast wasteland, video games and movies promote sex and violence.
>Yet Flynn discovered the astonishing and still little-known fact
>that intelligence scores have steadily increased for at least the
>past 100 years.  And it's a substantial gain; people who would have
>been considered geniuses 100 years ago would be merely average today.
>Perhaps even more surprisingly, the gains cannot be directly attributed to
>improved education, as the greatest improvements are found in the parts
>of the test that directly measure abstract reasoning via visual puzzles,
>not concrete knowledge based on language or mathematical skills.
>The Wired article (which should be online in a few days) does not have
>much that is new, but one fact which popped out is that the Effect has
>not only continued in the last couple of generations, but is increasing.
>Average IQ gains were 0.31 per year in the 1950s and 60s, but by the
>1990s had grown to 0.36 per year.
>Explanations for the Effect seem to be as numerous as people who have
>studied it.  Flynn himself does not seem to believe that it is real,
>in the sense that it actually points to increased intelligence.  I was
>amused by economist David Friedman's suggestion that it is due to the
>increased use of Caesarian deliveries allowing for larger head sizes!
>The Wired article focuses on increased visual stimulation as the catalyst,
>which seems plausible as part of the story.  The article then predicts
>that the next generation, exposed since babyhood to video games with
>demanding puzzle solving, mapping and coordination skills, will see an
>even greater improvement in IQ scores.
>Sometimes I wonder if the social changes we saw during the 20th century
>may have been caused or at least promoted by greater human intelligence.
>It's a difficult thesis to make because you first have to overcome the
>conventional wisdom that says that the 1900s were a century of human
>depravity and violence.  But if you look deeper and recognize the
>tremendous growth of morality and ethical sensitivity in this period
>(which is what makes us judge ourselves so harshly), you have to ask,
>maybe it is because people woke up, began to think for themselves, and
>weren't willing to let themselves be manipulated and influenced as in
>the past?  If so, then this bodes well for the future.
>--------------now the article:
>Pop quiz: Why are IQ test scores rising around the globe? (Hint: Stop reading
>the great authors and start playing Grand Theft Auto.)
>By Steven Johnson
>Twenty-three years ago, an American philosophy professor named James Flynn
>discovered a remarkable trend: Average IQ scores in every industrialized
>country on the planet had been increasing steadily for decades. Despite
>concerns about the dumbing-down of society - the failing schools, the garbage
>on TV, the decline of reading - the overall 
>population was getting smarter. And
>the climb has continued, with more recent studies showing that the rate of IQ
>increase is accelerating. Next to global warming 
>and Moore's law, the so-called
>Flynn effect may be the most revealing line on the increasingly crowded chart
>of modern life - and it's an especially hopeful one. We still have plenty of
>problems to solve, but at least there's one 
>consolation: Our brains are getting
>better at problem-solving.
>Unless you happen to think the very notion of IQ is bunk. Anyone who has read
>Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man or Howard Gardner's work on multiple
>intelligences or any critique of The Bell Curve is liable to dismiss IQ as
>merely phrenology updated, a pseudoscience fronting for a host of racist and
>elitist ideologies that dare not speak their names.
>These critics attack IQ itself - or, more precisely, what intelligence scholar
>Arthur Jensen called g, a measure of underlying "general" intelligence.
>Psychometricians measure g by performing a factor analysis of multiple
>intelligence tests and extracting a pattern of correlation between the
>measurements. (IQ is just one yardstick.) Someone with greater general
>intelligence than average should perform better on a range of different tests.
>Unlike some skeptics, James Flynn didn't just dismiss g as statistical tap
>dancing. He accepted that something real was being measured, but he came to
>believe that it should be viewed along another axis: time. You can't just take
>a snapshot of g at one moment and make sense of it, Flynn says. You have to
>track its evolution. He did just that. Suddenly, g became much more than a
>measure of mental ability. It revealed the rising trend line in intelligence
>test scores. And that, in turn, suggested that something in the environment -
>some social or cultural force - was driving the trend.
>Significant intellectual breakthroughs - to paraphrase the John Lennon song -
>are what happen when you're busy making other plans. So it was with Flynn and
>his effect. He left the US in the early 1960s to teach moral philosophy at the
>University of Otaga in New Zealand. In the late '70s, he began exploring the
>intellectual underpinnings of racist ideologies. 
>"And I thought: Oh, I can do a
>bit about the IQ controversies," he says. "And 
>then I saw that Arthur Jensen, a
>scholar of high repute, actually thought that blacks on average were
>genetically inferior - which was quite a shock. I should say that Jensen was
>beyond reproach - he's certainly not a racist. 
>And so I thought I'd better look
>into this."
>This inquiry led to a 1980 book, Race, IQ, and Jensen, that posited an
>environmental - not genetic - explanation for the black-white IQ gap. After
>finishing the book, Flynn decided that he would look for evidence that blacks
>were gaining on whites as their access to education increased, and so he began
>studying US military records, since every incoming member of the armed forces
>takes an IQ test.
>Sure enough, he found that blacks were making modest gains on whites in
>intelligence tests, confirming his environmental explanation. But something
>else in the data caught his eye. Every decade or so, the testing companies
>would generate new tests and re-normalize them so that the average score was
>100. To make sure that the new exams were in sync with previous ones, they'd
>have a batch of students take both tests. They were simply trying to confirm
>that someone who tested above average on the new version would perform above
>average on the old, and in fact the results 
>confirmed that correlation. But the
>data also brought to light another pattern, one that the testing companies
>ignored. "Every time kids took the new and the old tests, they did better on
>the old ones," Flynn says. "I thought: That's weird."
>The testing companies had published the comparative data almost as an
>afterthought. "It didn't seem to strike them as interesting that the kids were
>always doing better on the earlier test," he 
>says. "But I was new to the area."
>He sent his data to the Harvard Educational Review, which dismissed the paper
>for its small sample size. And so Flynn dug up every study that had ever been
>done in the US where the same subjects took a new and an old version of an IQ
>test. "And lo and behold, when you examined that huge collection of data, it
>revealed a 14-point gain between 1932 and 1978." According to Flynn's numbers,
>if someone testing in the top 18 percent the year FDR was elected were to
>time-travel to the middle of the Carter administration, he would score at the
>50th percentile.
>When Flynn finally published his work in 1984, Jensen objected that Flynn's
>numbers were drawing on tests that reflected educational background. He
>predicted that the Flynn effect would disappear if one were to look at tests -
>like the Raven Progressive Matrices - that give 
>a closer approximation of g, by
>measuring abstract reasoning and pattern recognition and eliminating language
>altogether. And so Flynn dutifully collected IQ data from all over the world.
>All of it showed dramatic increases. "The 
>biggest of all were on Ravens," Flynn
>reports with a hint of glee still in his voice.
>The trend Flynn discovered in the mid-'80s has been investigated extensively,
>and there's little doubt he's right. In fact, 
>the Flynn effect is accelerating.
>US test takers gained 17 IQ points between 1947 and 2001. The annual gain from
>1947 through 1972 was 0.31 IQ point, but by the '90s it had crept up to 0.36.
>Though the Flynn effect is now widely accepted, its existence has in turn
>raised new questions. The most fundamental: Why are measures of intelligence
>going up? The phenomenon would seem to make no sense in light of the evidence
>that g is largely an inherited trait. We're certainly not evolving that
>The classic heritability research paradigm is the twin adoption study: Look at
>IQ scores for thousands of individuals with various forms of shared genes and
>environments, and hunt for correlations. This is the sort of chart you get,
>with 100 being a perfect match and 0 pure randomness:
>The same person tested twice: 87
>Identical twins raised together: 86
>Identical twins raised apart: 76
>Fraternal twins raised together: 55
>Biological siblings: 47
>Parents and children living together: 40
>Parents and children living apart: 31
>Adopted children living together: 0
>Unrelated people living apart: 0
>After analyzing these shifting ratios of shared genes and the environment for
>several decades, the consensus grew, in the '90s, that heritability for IQ was
>around 0.6 - or about 60 percent. The two most 
>powerful indications of this are
>at the top and bottom of the chart: Identical twins raised in different
>environments have IQs almost as similar to each 
>other as the same person tested
>twice, while adopted children living together - shared environment, but no
>shared genes - show no correlation. When you look at a chart like that, the
>evidence for significant heritability looks undeniable.
>Four years ago, Flynn and William Dickens, a Brookings Institution economist,
>proposed another explanation, one made apparent to them by the Flynn effect.
>Imagine "somebody who starts out with a tiny little physiological advantage:
>He's just a bit taller than his friends," Dickens says. "That person is going
>to be just a bit better at basketball." Thanks to this minor height advantage,
>he tends to enjoy pickup basketball games. He goes on to play in high school,
>where he gets excellent coaching and accumulates more experience and skill.
>"And that sets up a cycle that could, say, take him all the way to the NBA,"
>Dickens says.
>Now imagine this person has an identical twin raised separately. He, too, will
>share the height advantage, and so be more 
>likely to find his way into the same
>cycle. And when some imagined basketball 
>geneticist surveys the data at the end
>of that cycle, he'll report that two identical twins raised apart share an
>off-the-charts ability at basketball. "If you did a genetic analysis, you'd
>say: Well, this guy had a gene that made him a better basketball player,"
>Dickens says. "But the fact is, that gene is making him 1 percent better, and
>the other 99 percent is that because he's slightly taller, he got all this
>environmental support." And what goes for basketball goes for intelligence:
>Small genetic differences get picked up and magnified in the environment,
>resulting in dramatically enhanced skills. "The heritability studies weren't
>wrong," Flynn says. "We just misinterpreted them."
>Dickens and Flynn showed that the environment could affect heritable traits
>like IQ, but one mystery remained: What part of our allegedly dumbed-down
>environment is making us smarter? It's not schools, since the tests that
>measure education-driven skills haven't shown the same steady gains. It's not
>nutrition - general improvement in diet leveled off in most industrialized
>countries shortly after World War II, just as the Flynn effect was
>Most cognitive scholars remain genuinely perplexed. "I find it a puzzle and
>don't have a compelling explanation," wrote 
>Harvard's Steven Pinker in an email
>exchange. "I suspect that it's either practice at taking tests or perhaps a
>large number of disparate factors that add up to the linear trend."
>Flynn has his theories, though they're still speculative. "For a long time it
>bothered me that g was going up without an across-the-board increase in other
>tests," he says. If g measured general intelligence, then a long-term increase
>should trickle over into other subtests. "And then I realized that society has
>priorities. Let's say we're too cheap to hire good high school math teachers.
>So while we may want to improve arithmetical reasoning skills, we just don't.
>On the other hand, with smaller families, more leisure, and more energy to use
>leisure for cognitively demanding pursuits, we may improve - without realizing
>it - on-the-spot problem-solving, like you see with Ravens."
>When you take the Ravens test, you're confronted 
>with a series of visual grids,
>each containing a mix of shapes that seem vaguely related to one another. Each
>grid contains a missing shape; to answer the implicit question posed by the
>test, you need to pick the correct missing shape from a selection of eight
>possibilities. To "solve" these puzzles, in 
>other words, you have to scrutinize
>a changing set of icons, looking for unusual patterns and correlations among
>This is not the kind of thinking that happens when you read a book or have a
>conversation with someone or take a history exam. But it is precisely the kind
>of mental work you do when you, say, struggle to program a VCR or master the
>interface on your new cell phone.
>Over the last 50 years, we've had to cope with an explosion of media,
>technologies, and interfaces, from the TV clicker to the World Wide Web. And
>every new form of visual media - interactive 
>visual media in particular - poses
>an implicit challenge to our brains: We have to work through the logic of the
>new interface, follow clues, sense 
>relationships. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these
>are the very skills that the Ravens tests measure - you survey a field of
>visual icons and look for unusual patterns.
>The best example of brain-boosting media may be videogames. Mastering visual
>puzzles is the whole point of the exercise - whether it's the spatial geometry
>of Tetris, the engineering riddles of Myst, or 
>the urban mapping of Grand Theft
>The ultimate test of the "cognitively demanding 
>leisure" hypothesis may come in
>the next few years, as the generation raised on 
>hypertext and massively complex
>game worlds starts taking adult IQ tests. This is a generation of kids who, in
>many cases, learned to puzzle through the visual 
>patterns of graphic interfaces
>before they learned to read. Their fundamental intellectual powers weren't
>shaped only by coping with words on a page. They acquired an intuitive
>understanding of shapes and environments, all of them laced with patterns that
>can be detected if you think hard enough. Their 
>parents may have enhanced their
>fluid intelligence by playing Tetris or learning the visual grammar of TV
>advertising. But that's child's play compared with Pokémon.
>Contributing editor Steven Johnson (stevenberlinjohnson at earthlink.net) is the
>author of Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is
>Actually Making Us Smarter.
>paleopsych mailing list
>paleopsych at paleopsych.org


Prof. Hannes Eisler
Department of Psychology
Stockholm University
S-106 91 Stockholm

e-mail:   he at psychology.su.se
fax   :   +46-8-15 93 42
phone :   +46-8-163967 (university)
           +46-8-6409982 (home)
internet: http://www.psychology.su.se/staff/he

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