A new study on the Flynn Effect in the US shows something quite different

We have discussed the Flynn Effect – the rise of IQ over decades – over and over again on this blog. We’ve also seen that there is possibly a reverse Flynn Effect in several countries lately. A new study makes this even more complicated:

 

  • When outdated norms are used, the Flynn Effect inflates IQs and potentially biases intellectual disability diagnosis
  • In a large US-representative adolescent sample, a Flynn Effect was found for IQs ≥ 130, and a negative effect for IQs ≤ 70
  • IQ changes also differed substantially by age group
  • A negative Flynn Effect for those with low intellectual ability suggests widening disparities in cognitive ability
  • Findings challenge the practice of generalizing IQ trends based on data from non-representative samples

I do think this one study is not enough to talk about a big trend, but the study does warn for generalizations and I do think more research is needed to check if this trend is true.

Abstract of the study:

Generational changes in IQ (the Flynn Effect) have been extensively researched and debated. Within the US, gains of 3 points per decade have been accepted as consistent across age and ability level, suggesting that tests with outdated norms yield spuriously high IQs. However, findings are generally based on small samples, have not been validated across ability levels, and conflict with reverse effects recently identified in Scandinavia and other countries. Using a well-validated measure of fluid intelligence, we investigated the Flynn Effect by comparing scores normed in 1989 and 2003, among a representative sample of American adolescents ages 13–18 (n = 10,073). Additionally, we examined Flynn Effect variation by age, sex, ability level, parental age, and SES. Adjusted mean IQ differences per decade were calculated using generalized linear models. Overall the Flynn Effect was not significant; however, effects varied substantially by age and ability level. IQs increased 2.3 points at age 13 (95% CI = 2.0, 2.7), but decreased 1.6 points at age 18 (95% CI = −2.1, −1.2). IQs decreased 4.9 points for those with IQ ≤ 70 (95% CI = −4.9, −4.8), but increased 3.5 points among those with IQ ≥ 130 (95% CI = 3.4, 3.6). The Flynn Effect was not meaningfully related to other background variables. Using the largest sample of US adolescent IQs to date, we demonstrate significant heterogeneity in fluid IQ changes over time. Reverse Flynn Effects at age 18 are consistent with previous data, and those with lower ability levels are exhibiting worsening IQ over time. Findings by age and ability level challenge generalizing IQ trends throughout the general population.

 

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