The Flynn Effect IQ gains

Flynn effect IQ gains: higher levels of education could be the cause
Flynn effect IQ gain could be explained in part by greater levels of formal education

In 1984, James R. Flynn made the discovery that that IQs of the American population were increasing at a rate of 3 points per decade. This finding was coined “the Flynn Effect” in the controversial book The Bell Curve. This astonishing finding implied that Americans were increasing their intelligence (i.e. the Flynn effect IQ gain) by nearly 9 points per generation, which is over half of one standard deviation for IQ scores. Zhou and Zao confirmed that the rate of 3pt gain in the USA has continued into the 21st Century. Most scientists agree that this is because of societal factors. In the modern world, the increase in the amount of information that one must absorb and the range of experience that people are likely to go through in life are bound to have some profound impact on the brain and on cognitive ability.

Consider the amount of formal education that people tend to go through today vis-à-vis a Century ago (for instance, nearly 60% of Canadians today undertake undergraduate studies). Also consider the amount of information that you come across on the news, the web and through social media. Although Einstein was said to have an IQ of 160, he never was exposed to nearly as much information as the web-savvy, astute reader of the Financial Times, the Economist and the New Yorker would be today. And because crystallized intelligence is one of the major components of general intelligence, it comes as no surprise that people are in fact increasing their smarts. The Flynn effect IQ gain also persists into adulthood, so that means that people are in fact becoming smarter.

If you thought the USA was a special place, then think again. The Flynn Effect was confirmed globally and it turns out that some countries have been experiencing even faster gain than those recorded in the USA.

The Highest Flynn effect IQ gain nations are as follows:

Netherlands: 6.7

Belgium: 5.8

Canada: 4.6

Norway: 3.2

New Zealand: 2.4

Digging deeper into the data however, the IQ gains are not evenly spread across the distribution of IQs. The largest gains in intelligence are found in the lower half of the IQ distribution and the figures quoted above are most applicable to individuals with IQs centered on the mean of 100 (i.e. the average Joe). At the extreme right of the distribution on the other hand, gains are flat to declining which suggests that people with gifted IQs are not getting the same benefit as people who are intellectually average. The Flynn effect gain is largely benefiting Joe Bloggs. All in all, it might be more accurate to state that the average person is getting smarter.

Because of the Flynn effect IQ gain however, it is critical for people to be taking updated IQ tests that have been normed recently to avoid reporting an inflated score.  In other words, people sitting a 30-year old IQ test dating from the early 1980s would be expected to outperform on that test today relative to taking a brand new IQ test that has been normed recently. Remember that IQ tests are always normed at a particular point in time to reflect a mean of 100.

You can assess your fluid intelligence HERE on our recently normed online IQ test.