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The Psychometrics Centre

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Has Intelligence Been Rising? A Lecture By James Flynn

last modified Oct 05, 2013 04:53 PM

A major Psychometrics Centre event

An audience at Trinity College, Cambridge had the opportunity to listen to and question one of the leading participants in intelligence studies; James Flynn, the discoverer of the 'Flynn Effect' 

Has intelligence been rising?

Recent debates on standards in education and about skills shortages in industry have highlighted the issue of 'intelligence': what it means and what role it plays in individual and national development. 
Once upon a time, kids (and adults) took IQ tests, proudly swapped IQ levels and joined Mensa if they could. Then intelligence testing fell into disrepute, largely because of the obsession of some psychologists with race differences and their possible genetic causes. James Flynn rebutted this position by drawing attention to the massive gains in IQ scores of all groups over the decades of the 20th century. These changes were sufficient to swamp differences between racial groups, and as our genes don't change, show that the environment is a far more important element in group differences than was first thought.  

The implications of this finding have been widespread; one consequence being that talk about individual differences in ability is again respectable and no longer marginalises people on the basis of their race. Given that the assessment of ability forms such an important part of psychometrics, not only in education but also of recruitment, it enables psychometricians to focus on what they do well - the creation of reliable and valid instruments of assessment.

Professor Flynn examines the significance of  the irresistible rise of IQ scores since they were first used.  You could interpret the massive increases on standard IQ measures in the USA as suggesting that compared to today's children parents born circa 1962, or grandparents born 1934, or great and great-great grandparents born earlier had serious learning difficulties. In other words, the human race is getting smarter.

Professor Flynn argues that this would be the wrong interpretation, ignoring a century of cognitive research. These gains in IQ scores are real, but Professor Flynn will draw on the theories of the influential biologist Jean Piaget to suggest that since 1900, the way we think has changed and this underlies the increase. His views have implications for the practice of testing, the increasing use of assessments in education and business, and public policy in a number of areas

Click here to read the full text of Jim Flynn's lecture.

Professor James R Flynn

James R. Flynn is Professor Emeritus at the University of Otago and recipient of the University's Gold Medal for Distinguished Career Research.  His name has been given to the 'Flynn Effect', the discovery of massive IQ gains from one generation to another, and he has been profiled in Scientific American.  The American Psychological Association has devoted a symposium and a book to his research.  His latest book is How to Defend Humane Ideals. He has been Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution (Stanford) and Distinguished Visiting Speaker at Cornell

Before moving to New Zealand in 1963, Jim Flynn was active in the US Socialist Party and the Black protest movement in the American South.  He has been active in the Nuclear-free New Zealand movement, the Labour Party (until 1989), and The Alliance.  He is a member of the New Zealand Alliance Policy Committee with special responsibility for designing a fair and progressive income tax, health funding, and policies to restore excellence to the New Zealand educational system.

His research as a scholar has been on the theory of intelligence and how to promote social justice and equality in New Zealand and other Western societies.  He lectures widely in the community on topics ranging from the causes and dangers of terrorism to the causes and dangers of over-management in both the public and private sectors.

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