Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

An Interview with Jim Flynn about the Flynn Effect

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

An Interview with Jim Flynn about the Flynn Effect

Article excerpt

James R. Flynn is Professor Emeritus at the University of Otago. His university awarded him an Honorary Doctorate and its Gold Medal for Distinguished Career Research. He has been profiled in Scientific American and named "Distinguished Contributor" by the International Society for Intelligence Research. The "Flynn effect" refers to the documentation of massive IQ gains from one generation to another. His book, What is Intelligence?, lays the foundation for a new theory of intelligence.

NAJP: What are you currently working on, researching?

JF: Currently, I'm working on a paper that has to do with the deceptiveness of convenience samples, particularly elite samples. People often, since they're handy, test their own students at university or even in their own psychology classes, and then they generalize from these to the general population. For example, they may find that among university students the male IQ is two or three points above the female, and, while they put in disclaimers, they imply that this tells us something about the general population. But, in point of fact, of course, if you look at a normal curve, and you assume--which I think is true--that women have a slightly lower IQ threshold to entering university, then the gender parity in the general population would generate a two or three point IQ advantage for males at university.

You know, the lower the threshold, the more low IQ women would get in. I think that women with an IQ of 100 are much more likely to get A's and B's than men with an IQ of 100 at secondary school. There's a lot of evidence to that effect. So that means that the female university sample is less elite, and that, of course, lowers the mean IQ. It also would raise the SD because, of course, you're covering a wider part of the curve, so one of the symptoms that you're getting an unrepresentative sample would be that women score two or three points below men but have a larger standard deviation within university students; and that's indeed what you find.

There are a lot of other examples of this: where people just don't take into account that these elite samples of university students are deceptive about the general population.

Other than that, I'm working on stuff that shows that, as we age, people of high IQ pay a "bright tax." That is, if you have a high IQ, after sixty-five, your analytic abilities and processing speed will deteriorate faster than someone of average or low IQ. On the other hand, for your vocabulary, you get a bonus; it will hold up much better. This, I think, is a novel finding. People tend to lump all these together. But, if you analyze the latest data, you'll find that the evidence is that if you're bright, you'll have a faster downward curve to your analytic and information processing abilities, and you'll find that at the mean or below the mean the drop is less.

Finally, I'm doing a paper where I compare the vocabulary gains over time of school children and adults. You find that while school children have made very little gain in the last fifty years, adults have gained over a standard deviation for their active vocabulary. For passive vocabulary, there hasn't been the same trend. So the implication is that, when you talk to your teenage children today, they can understand you as well as kids could in 1950, but they cannot actually use your adult vocabulary nearly as well. I presume that the teen-speak of teenage subculture insulates them from being socialized into their normal speech community. You know, these are bits and pieces. You have to remember, I'm not primarily a psychologist; I mean, that's the work I'm doing in psychology but the books I'm publishing at present are on philosophy, on why students should read world literature, and things of that sort, and about American foreign policy. Here I have focused on my psych research. I'm actually doing research in my own bailiwick as well, and the books I'm publishing are mainly in that area. …

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