The intricacies behind the Flynn Effect


Bryce Edwards

Flynn is originally from Washington D.C. until he emigrated to New Zealand to teach political science at the University of Otago in Dunedin.

Avery Nelson, Staff Writer

The Flynn Effect, which I was first introduced to in AP Psychology my junior year of high school, can be categorized as something that occurs without awareness from most people. Described in psychology textbooks as “the tendency for both fluid and crystallized intelligence scores to increase in a general population,” it does not seem like an issue that could be of any importance to anyone. However, the Flynn Effect is a direct indicator of how modern aspects of society influence thought. 

Coined by James Flynn, a New Zealand researcher in the mid-1980s, this puzzling global phenomenon presents two different sides of the controversy: are people actually getting smarter or are the IQ tests being administered getting easier? The answer is neither. IQ scores, on average, increase three points every ten years, making the generational gain of nine points noteworthy. According to Malcolm Gladwell, a Canadian journalist and staff writer for the New York Times, if we start with a modern teenager with an average IQ of 100 and work backward, that “puts the average IQs of the schoolchildren of 1900 at around 70.” This would mean “that a century ago the U.S. was populated largely by people who today would be considered mentally retarded.” So if the general intelligence of the human race is not the culprit behind this mysterious occurrence, what is?

Megan Gambino, a senior editor for the Smithsonian magazine, describes it as modern thinking resulting from the continual change in how our brains are being stressed over generations. Gambino compares these mental shifts to how the muscles of a weightlifter and those of a swimmer are dissimilar due to the varying ways they use their bodies. Keeping this comparison in mind, we can now relate it to the differing ways of life in modern society versus that of the 19th century. In the highly technological world that we live in now, people cannot function without electronic devices as they have become the center of our reality. Contrastingly, in the past before technology of any kind was invented, the human race operated much differently. The addition of industrial advancements has changed how society conducts their day to day lives, thus influencing our thought processes. Being exposed to various stimuli will create different responses, which is exactly what is occurring in the Flynn Effect. 

With modern thinking resulting from industrialized aspects of society, there is a clear correlation between the increased IQ scores and the ever-advancing world. This cultivates another question, however, as contemporary thought continues to evolve, does that mean that the average IQ scores will only increase? Is there a cap to the magnitude that new ways of thinking can affect standardized test scores?