[Paleopsych] Wired: (Flynn Effect): Dome Improvement
ross.buck at uconn.edu
Fri May 6 16:13:36 UTC 2005
All sorts of signals, including signals experienced in the womb. In
infants simple sensory stimulation is critical to turn on genetic
potential. Later, signals from other human beings become critical. We
bioregulate one another via emotional communication--indeed this is true
of all creatures--working particularly via peptide neurohormones. Human
social organization emerges from interactions involving emotional
communication, literally priming the DNA to respond appropriately (or
not). Environmental signals can screw up the DNA as well, of course.
Deprivation of physical/social stimuli due to
abuse/neglect--particularly during sensitive periods--can undermine
genetic potential for a lifetime, as can signals that can be associated
with poverty, discrimination, bad education, lack of opportunity, etc.
>From the Flynn effect, it appears possible that modern media optimize
the expression of whatever human DNA is associated with performance on
IQ-type tests. What they do for SOCIAL competence is another question.
Television has been likened to Harlow's cloth-covered surrogate mothers:
warm and fuzzy but basically unresponsive to the user. Newer technology
is responsive to the user as well, of course, and it is noteworthy how
kids eat it up (Piaget's "aliments" at work).
From: paleopsych-bounces at paleopsych.org
[mailto:paleopsych-bounces at paleopsych.org] On Behalf Of Steve Hovland
Sent: Thursday, May 05, 2005 9:13 PM
To: 'The new improved paleopsych list'
Subject: RE: [Paleopsych] Wired: (Flynn Effect): Dome Improvement
What kind of environmental signals optimize the expression
of human DNA?
From: Buck, Ross [SMTP:ross.buck at uconn.edu]
Sent: Thursday, May 05, 2005 10:00 AM
To: The new improved paleopsych list
Subject: RE: [Paleopsych] Wired: (Flynn Effect): Dome Improvement
Again the notion of heritability is being presented as a meaningful
of genetic-versus-environmental influence. Most monozygotic twins are
monochorionic, sharing the same choroid plexus and therefore the same
supply in the womb. A minority are dichorionic, with identical genes
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
that while the concordance rate for MC MZ twins was 60% (i.e., if one
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
the genes do nothing without environmental influences turning them on
The Flynn effect suggests that the vast media wasteland may actually
function as a vast brain playground.
Ross Buck, Ph. D.
Professor of Communication Sciences
Communication Sciences U-1085
University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT 06269-1085
Ross.buck at uconn.edu
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
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
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
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
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 re
the great authors and start playing Grand Theft Auto.)
By Steven Johnson
Twenty-three years ago, an American philosophy professor named James
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
on TV, the decline of reading - the overall population was getting
the climb has continued, with more recent studies showing that the rate
increase is accelerating. Next to global warming and Moore's law, the
Flynn effect may be the most revealing line on the increasingly crowded
of modern life - and it's an especially hopeful one. We still have
problems to solve, but at least there's one consolation: Our brains are
better at problem-solving.
Unless you happen to think the very notion of IQ is bunk. Anyone who has
Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man or Howard Gardner's work on
intelligences or any critique of The Bell Curve is liable to dismiss IQ
merely phrenology updated, a pseudoscience fronting for a host of racist
elitist ideologies that dare not speak their names.
These critics attack IQ itself - or, more precisely, what intelligence
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
Unlike some skeptics, James Flynn didn't just dismiss g as statistical
dancing. He accepted that something real was being measured, but he came
believe that it should be viewed along another axis: time. You can't
a snapshot of g at one moment and make sense of it, Flynn says. You have
track its evolution. He did just that. Suddenly, g became much more than
measure of mental ability. It revealed the rising trend line in
test scores. And that, in turn, suggested that something in the
some social or cultural force - was driving the trend.
Significant intellectual breakthroughs - to paraphrase the John Lennon
are what happen when you're busy making other plans. So it was with
his effect. He left the US in the early 1960s to teach moral philosophy
University of Otaga in New Zealand. In the late '70s, he began exploring
intellectual underpinnings of racist ideologies. "And I thought: Oh, I
bit about the IQ controversies," he says. "And then I saw that Arthur
scholar of high repute, actually thought that blacks on average were
genetically inferior - which was quite a shock. I should say that Jensen
beyond reproach - he's certainly not a racist. And so I thought I'd
This inquiry led to a 1980 book, Race, IQ, and Jensen, that posited an
environmental - not genetic - explanation for the black-white IQ gap.
finishing the book, Flynn decided that he would look for evidence that
were gaining on whites as their access to education increased, and so he
studying US military records, since every incoming member of the armed
takes an IQ test.
Sure enough, he found that blacks were making modest gains on whites in
intelligence tests, confirming his environmental explanation. But
else in the data caught his eye. Every decade or so, the testing
would generate new tests and re-normalize them so that the average score
100. To make sure that the new exams were in sync with previous ones,
have a batch of students take both tests. They were simply trying to
that someone who tested above average on the new version would perform
average on the old, and in fact the results confirmed that correlation.
data also brought to light another pattern, one that the testing
ignored. "Every time kids took the new and the old tests, they did
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
always doing better on the earlier test," he says. "But I was new to the
He sent his data to the Harvard Educational Review, which dismissed the
for its small sample size. And so Flynn dug up every study that had ever
done in the US where the same subjects took a new and an old version of
test. "And lo and behold, when you examined that huge collection of
revealed a 14-point gain between 1932 and 1978." According to Flynn's
if someone testing in the top 18 percent the year FDR was elected were
time-travel to the middle of the Carter administration, he would score
When Flynn finally published his work in 1984, Jensen objected that
numbers were drawing on tests that reflected educational background. He
predicted that the Flynn effect would disappear if one were to look at
like the Raven Progressive Matrices - that give a closer approximation
measuring abstract reasoning and pattern recognition and eliminating
altogether. And so Flynn dutifully collected IQ data from all over the
All of it showed dramatic increases. "The biggest of all were on
reports with a hint of glee still in his voice.
The trend Flynn discovered in the mid-'80s has been investigated
and there's little doubt he's right. In fact, the Flynn effect is
US test takers gained 17 IQ points between 1947 and 2001. The annual
1947 through 1972 was 0.31 IQ point, but by the '90s it had crept up to
Though the Flynn effect is now widely accepted, its existence has in
raised new questions. The most fundamental: Why are measures of
going up? The phenomenon would seem to make no sense in light of the
that g is largely an inherited trait. We're certainly not evolving that
The classic heritability research paradigm is the twin adoption study:
IQ scores for thousands of individuals with various forms of shared
environments, and hunt for correlations. This is the sort of chart you
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
several decades, the consensus grew, in the '90s, that heritability for
around 0.6 - or about 60 percent. The two most powerful indications of
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
twice, while adopted children living together - shared environment, but
shared genes - show no correlation. When you look at a chart like that,
evidence for significant heritability looks undeniable.
Four years ago, Flynn and William Dickens, a Brookings Institution
proposed another explanation, one made apparent to them by the Flynn
Imagine "somebody who starts out with a tiny little physiological
He's just a bit taller than his friends," Dickens says. "That person is
to be just a bit better at basketball." Thanks to this minor height
he tends to enjoy pickup basketball games. He goes on to play in high
where he gets excellent coaching and accumulates more experience and
"And that sets up a cycle that could, say, take him all the way to the
Now imagine this person has an identical twin raised separately. He,
share the height advantage, and so be more likely to find his way into
cycle. And when some imagined basketball geneticist surveys the data at
of that cycle, he'll report that two identical twins raised apart share
off-the-charts ability at basketball. "If you did a genetic analysis,
say: Well, this guy had a gene that made him a better basketball
Dickens says. "But the fact is, that gene is making him 1 percent
the other 99 percent is that because he's slightly taller, he got all
environmental support." And what goes for basketball goes for
Small genetic differences get picked up and magnified in the
resulting in dramatically enhanced skills. "The heritability studies
wrong," Flynn says. "We just misinterpreted them."
Dickens and Flynn showed that the environment could affect heritable
like IQ, but one mystery remained: What part of our allegedly
environment is making us smarter? It's not schools, since the tests that
measure education-driven skills haven't shown the same steady gains.
nutrition - general improvement in diet leveled off in most
countries shortly after World War II, just as the Flynn effect was
Most cognitive scholars remain genuinely perplexed. "I find it a puzzle
don't have a compelling explanation," wrote Harvard's Steven Pinker in
exchange. "I suspect that it's either practice at taking tests or
large number of disparate factors that add up to the linear trend."
Flynn has his theories, though they're still speculative. "For a long
bothered me that g was going up without an across-the-board increase in
tests," he says. If g measured general intelligence, then a long-term
should trickle over into other subtests. "And then I realized that
priorities. Let's say we're too cheap to hire good high school math
So while we may want to improve arithmetical reasoning skills, we just
On the other hand, with smaller families, more leisure, and more energy
leisure for cognitively demanding pursuits, we may improve - without
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
each containing a mix of shapes that seem vaguely related to one
grid contains a missing shape; to answer the implicit question posed by
test, you need to pick the correct missing shape from a selection of
possibilities. To "solve" these puzzles, in other words, you have to
a changing set of icons, looking for unusual patterns and correlations
This is not the kind of thinking that happens when you read a book or
conversation with someone or take a history exam. But it is precisely
of mental work you do when you, say, struggle to program a VCR or master
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.
every new form of visual media - interactive visual media in particular
an implicit challenge to our brains: We have to work through the logic
new interface, follow clues, sense relationships. Perhaps
are the very skills that the Ravens tests measure - you survey a field
visual icons and look for unusual patterns.
The best example of brain-boosting media may be videogames. Mastering
puzzles is the whole point of the exercise - whether it's the spatial
of Tetris, the engineering riddles of Myst, or the urban mapping of
The ultimate test of the "cognitively demanding leisure" hypothesis may
the next few years, as the generation raised on hypertext and massively
game worlds starts taking adult IQ tests. This is a generation of kids
many cases, learned to puzzle through the visual patterns of graphic
before they learned to read. Their fundamental intellectual powers
shaped only by coping with words on a page. They acquired an intuitive
understanding of shapes and environments, all of them laced with
can be detected if you think hard enough. Their parents may have
fluid intelligence by playing Tetris or learning the visual grammar of
advertising. But that's child's play compared with Pokemon.
Contributing editor Steven Johnson (stevenberlinjohnson at earthlink.net)
author of Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is
Actually Making Us Smarter.
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