Although the scores of I.Q (CI) have increased substantially from 1932 to the 20th century, for the first time we are witnessing a decline. This is shown by an investigation carried out by researchers from Northwestern University who have found evidence of a “Flynn effect” reversed in a large US sample between 2006 and 2018 in all but one category.
What is the Flynn effect?
He flynn effect It is a social phenomenon that refers to the constant and widespread increase in intelligence test scores observed throughout the 20th century in many countries around the world. This effect was discovered by the New Zealand psychologist James Flynn, hence his name, who identified that scores on intelligence tests increased around three points per decade. This effect was a breakthrough in the field of psychology and has been the subject of much debate and study ever since.
With everything, the new study found evidence of a reverse “Flynn effect” in a large US sample of nearly 400,000 people tested between 2006 and 2018 in various skill areas. While they haven’t specified the exact drop, they said the largest decline was in people from 18 to 22 years and in people with less education. The study was done before the pandemic, which means that disruptions to education caused by lockdowns could have made these results even worse.
Does this mean that we are becoming less intelligent?
Not necessarily. “It doesn’t mean their mental ability is lower or higher; it’s just a difference in scores favoring older or newer samples,” said Elizabeth Dworak, a research assistant professor of medical social sciences in the School of Medicine. Feinberg of Northwestern University and lead author of the study reported in the journal Intelligence. “It could just be that they are getting worse at testing or specifically worse at doing these kinds of tests.”
In general, the results suggest that the IQ points were reduced during the study period, although the researchers did not state exactly how many IQ points were lowered. As experts recall, IQ scores have “increased substantially since 1932 and throughout the 20th century, with differences ranging from 3.0 to 5.0 IQ points.”
Skill scores dropped in three areas: verbal reasoning (logic, vocabulary), matrix reasoning (visual problem solving, analogies), and strings of letters and numbers (computer science/math).
The scientists used the Synthetic Openness Personality Assessment Project (SAPA), a freely available online, survey-based personality test that provides test takers feedback on 27 temperament traits (for example, adaptability, impulsivity, anxiety, mood ) and their skill scores.
“It could be the case that our results indicate a change in the quality or content of education and test-taking skills within this large sample of the United States. Since scores were lower for more recent participants at all levels of education, this could suggest that the caliber of education has decreased in this study sample and/or that there has been a change in the perceived value of certain cognitive habilyties”, write the authors in their conclusion.
The investigators did not conduct any investigation to try to explain the fall, but suggest that it could be related to certain changes in the educational system. Similarly, no one-way factor could explain such a complex reversal, and some scientists have argued that environmental factors such as the rise of technology and increased exposure to information, nutrition, or education could be the drivers. of this change.
Elizabeth M. Dworak et al, Looking for Flynn effects in a recent online U.S. adult sample: Examining shifts within the SAPA Project, Intelligence (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.intell.2023.101734