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Are We Getting Smarter?: Rising IQ in the Twenty-First Century Paperback – 6 Sep 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (6 Sept. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1107609178
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521665674
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.9 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 487,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


'Flynn has made this field his own … This book's strengths are the authority of the author, the engaging writing style, the importance of the topics dealt with, and the up-to-date nature of the content.' Ian J. Deary, University of Edinburgh

'No one but James Flynn could have written this book. It contains his most recent ideas about the causes and implications of the massive rise in IQ test scores that has been termed the 'Flynn Effect', and is thus essential reading for anyone wishing to keep up to date with the latest thinking about the nature of IQ.' Nicholas Mackintosh, University of Cambridge

'The scholarship of this book is detailed and exhaustive. The originality of thinking is sprinkled throughout the beginning chapters, and reaches a peak in the final two. With his unique perspective, Flynn literally is 'opening new windows'.' Jonathan Wai, Duke University

'… one of the most extraordinary science books I have ever read … Flynn can confidently look forward to immortality. His name will forever be attached to one of the most contentious, baffling and, for me, exhilarating scientific discoveries of our age.' Brian Appleyard, The Sunday Times

Book Description

IQ gains are persisting into the twenty-first century, particularly in the developing world: the 'Flynn effect' marches on! This exciting new book by James R. Flynn aims to make sense of the continued rise in IQ scores and considers what this tells us about our intelligence, our minds and society.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Edward B. Crutchley on 2 Nov. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Apart from being an eye-opener and marvellously thought provoking, this is quite an uplifting book; any sagging faith in the human race you might have had is at least partially restored. As our minds become increasingly challenged and exercised by modern-day life, we are far from being in mental decline. No phenomenon of future shock so far, so it would seem. The author is responsible for the now-accepted `Flynn effect' whereby, on a constant measurement basis, IQ scores continue to improve by 0.3 points per year (for example, the USA gained in IQ from 67 points in 1900 to 100 today). Work environment seems to be more important than education. We learn differences between countries, the effects of urbanisation, the variations with age. We hear how the subject has involved Flynn in fighting life-and-death cases regarding death-row prisoners in the USA (where an IQ score below 70 denotes mental retardation and therefore exemption form the death penalty). In a sea of statistics cleverly presented so as not to put us off too much, Flynn analyses phenomena arising from IQ tests and dispels some myths (re nutrition, gender, race, etc). He explains why, for example, developing nations lag behind, including mention of recent findings related to the strong correlation between IQ and country levels of `parasitic stress'). We learn about the significant effect of heredity; the teenager effect that has appeared in developed nations since 1950; about bright tax (more rapid decline of analytical skills with age for bright people); the discovery that experienced London taxi drivers experience exceptional growth of the hippocampus area of the brain.Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 23 reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Only Flynn understands the Flynn Effect! 8 Dec. 2012
By Gaetan Lion - Published on
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I am not just kidding. Flynn uncovered in the early 80s that individuals' IQs gained about 3 pts per decade (Box 13, pg 74). Nearly 30 years later professionals within clinical psychology, education, law, and healthcare still ignore the impact of the Flynn Effect on their respective cognitive measurements.

He documents the critical consequences of ignoring the Flynn Effect. In the US any criminal with an IQ two full standard deviations below the average (IQ of 70) is deemed incompetent to stand trial and exempt from the death penalty. But, the majority of IQ tests are obsolete. An individual can get an IQ score of 76 (6 pts above incompetence) solely because of the test being outdated. Educators' assessment of children being gifted or cognitively impaired can be highly inaccurate. Giving an old test to children inflates their IQs. As a result, the selected gifted group will be far larger than it should be and many of the children needing special assistance will be ignored. The Flynn Effect also affects memory loss tests. And, health care professionals routinely administer obsolete tests. By doing so, they diagnose elderly individuals as doing just fine when they do need assistance in living.

Flynn proposes two solutions to resolve the Flynn Effect. The first one is updating tests frequently. The second one is adjusting scores downward by 0.3 pts per year. So, someone with an IQ of 120 associated with a test normed 20 years ago would have an adjusted IQ of 114. Somehow, the professions have rejected either approach.

Flynn considers intelligence a relative concept that needs to factor age of individuals (cognitive capabilities have their own lifecycle) and contemporary social context (Flynn Effect). Our society has become increasingly complex especially at work. And, that is the primary cause of our increasing IQ scores over time. Are we getting smarter? On page 163, he answers his own question: "I cannot give an absolute measure of the ability to classify or use logic... but I can say we are much better at both today than our ancestors were in 1900." So, the straightforward answer is "yes, we are."

Flynn contemplates whether developing nations will catch up with developed ones on IQ tests. He debunks many arguments related to climate, nutrition, and health; as he finds they do not cause IQ increases. Instead, IQ results from GDP growth that entails a society becoming increasingly complex. He notes that the IQ of developing nations is often rising rapidly. But, so are the ones of developed countries (Box 11, pg. 57). The issue is whether the societies of the developing world will catch up to the complexity of the developed ones. Some will and make the transition from developing to developed countries such as many Southeast Asian countries have.

Flynn observes that IQ changes with age, especially IQ subcomponents. And, the aging pattern is different for individuals of various brightness levels. The very bright tend to lose more of their analytical skills with age than the not so bright ones. This is because they progressively lose some of their analytical skills upon retirement. The remedy for them is to simply remain actively engaged in research and studies throughout retirement as he has done himself. Flynn is 78. But, with more leisure time in retirement, bright people communicate and socialize more. So, their vocabulary keeps on improving (Box 24, pg. 116).

Flynn observes that girls are far better students than boys. In all reviewed countries, girls have a huge advantage in reading (Box 31, pg 148). Better prepared, many more females go on to university than males. Yet, males average IQs in university are much higher than females. So, some derive that men are more intelligent than women. This is wrong. The males that go on to university represent a smaller self-selected sample than the females. It only makes sense that their average IQs would be higher than females. Flynn notices that in developing countries, women IQs are often lower than men. But, this is solely due to their being deprived of education and working opportunities. Flynn states on pg 157: "I believe that whether or not women achieve [IQ] parity with men is a good test of whether a society has achieved full modernity [men and women civil rights equality].

Flynn explains the superiority in academic achievement of the Asian Americans. By the 1980s, they represented only 2% of the American population, but already accounted for 14% of the students at Harvard, 16% at Stanford, 20% at MIT, 21% at Cal Tech, and 25% at Berkeley (pg. 177). Today all those percentages are much higher. Many believe this group has a far higher IQ. Flynn suggests this is not the case. Just like women are better students and are over-represented vs men in universities so are Asian Americans vs other Americans. It is the exact same issue. Both groups, women and Asian Americans study a lot harder than their counterparts. As a result a far larger percentage of their respective population goes onto universities. It is just that this trend is even more pronounced for the Asian Americans. Flynn states: "... it was not higher IQ scores but sociology of the family [tiger-moms and overall work ethics] that explains the remarkable academic achievements of the Asian Americans."

Within the nature-vs-nurture debate Flynn falls strongly on the nurture side. For him, nurture is having the opportunity to live and work within a complex society. Thus, Flynn weighs much less than his counterparts on nature (intelligence being inherited). Yet, when he addresses the studies on twins (pg. 167 - 169) that demonstrated that nature was a very strong factor (twins brought up apart end up having the same IQ regardless of environmental circumstances); he appears hard pressed to effectively rebut it. He goes on a long explanation regarding an "individual multiplier" that actually confirms the very "nature" argument he attempts to rebut.

In the end, intelligence is probably much less inherited than Flynn's counterparts (Jensen, Murray) suggest; but it is much more than Flynn advances. If you find this topic interesting, I also recommend Flynn's earlier book What Is Intelligence?. If you want to study the other side of the argument check out Murray's recent book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Beginning and End Outstanding, Middle Gets Lost in Data 9 Dec. 2012
By Book Fanatic - Published on
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
First of all this book is fairly technical but not above the intelligent layman to comprehend. However, in order to do that one must put in some effort. You are not going to get much out of this book if you aren't at least somewhat familiar with basic statistical concepts and are willing to think your way through it.

The first couple of chapters and the last couple of chapters were outstanding and don't get bogged down in data. I learned a lot from both of them and Flynn seems to have an incredible grip on some complex issues around IQ. Secondly IQ is important regardless of the PC attempts to say it doesn't matter much.

In the middle of this book are some chapters that get heavily into data that I believe are too long. I don't need so many examples say of developing nations to get the point. Some of this material is boring.

I thought the second chapter was great and according to the author it is a summary of his previous book What Is Intelligence?. Therefore I'm going to read that book.

This book is recommended for people interested in the topic and who have a least some basic level of knowledge of statistics. Without that you aren't going to get much out of it.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
The Flynn Effect: Are we getting smarter? 2 Feb. 2013
By Steven A. Peterson - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wikipedia defines the "Flynn Effect" thus: "The Flynn effect is the substantial and long-sustained increase in intelligence test scores measured in many parts of the world from roughly 1930 to the present day." In this book, James Flynn explores why IQ may be increasing and what the implications are.

Flynn himself explains what his book intends to accomplish (Page 1): "Whatever we are doing, we are making massive IQ gains from one generation to another. . .This book attempts to make sense of what time and place are doing to our minds." This book may be slow going for the novice, but it is an important work, one raising many provocative questions.

The Flynn Effect begins with the determination that as intelligence tests are revised, the standard for average performance (100 is calculated as the average score) are set based on people who take the tests. Over time, IQ scores rise. Even though the average (mean) score on different versions of IQ tests over time is 100, the scores over time need to be recalibrated to keep the mean at 100. So the mean stays the same--but the test takers are "smarter" than their predecessors. In that sense, people have been getting smarter. It is not only in the developed world that IQ gains have been ascertained; in many developing nations, IQ has also increased. To give a sense of how profound the changes have been, take the Netherlands. Compare IQ scores in 1982 with those from 1952. The person who got an average score (in the middle of the range of IQs) in 1982 would have scored higher than 90% of all Dutch in 1952.

Why the increases? Flynn believes that the Industrial Revolution and modernizing industry is a part of the explanation. He even notes that some have suggested that certain video games and computer applications may have sharpened people's minds. In short, events in the environment are key to explaining the increase. Do you argue that TV shows how dopey people actually are? Flynn cites a study showing that TV shows now are much more complex than before. He suggests comparing "I Love Lucy" with "Hill Street Blues." The latter demands much more from an audience as compared to the former. In many respects, life today demands more cognitive complexity from people, and this leads to using their inherent cognitive power at a higher level. An increasingly complex social world is a part of the explanation, then.

Many issues are joined in this book--such as the role of race in the discussion on intelligence, the role of nutrition in increased scores (with a surprising conclusion), the likely closing of the IQ gap between developed and developing nations, the effect of intelligence on violence, and so on.

This is an important book, albeit one that is more academic than easily accessible to non-academic readers. But the effort to understand the work will be richly rewarded.
15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Maybe Not... 2 Dec. 2012
By Louis N. Gruber - Published on
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Are we getting smarter? Not this reviewer, at any rate. The interesting finding that IQ scores are steadily rising from one generation to the next (the Flynn effect) might reflect evolutionary changes in the human brain, but more likely is a societal phenomenon. Our evolving culture is making us better at test-taking and more comfortable with abstract kinds of thought. A number of other factors must be considered as well, for example, improved nutrition, better health, better medical care, educational opportunities, and increased genetic diversity due to outbreeding. Is there an overall intelligence factor, "g," above and beyond the various skills measured by intelligence testing? The author considers these and other questions, and without drawing definite conclusions, leads the readers through some fascinating explorations.

Unfortunately, the book is almost unreadable. Author Flynn writes dense thickets of prose, packed with statistical jargon, tables and charts. Who is the intended audience? Not the average educated layperson. The book seems to be written for a handful of experts in the field of intelligence testing, and for no one else. I found myself skimming the later chapters, pausing at the occasional paragraph of readable prose, and skimming on. The author is passionate about his subject, but has not made his material accessible for most readers.

If you have a background in education or psychology, and some familiarity with intelligence testing, you might find this book enlightening. For the rest of us, it's not recommended. Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
DNA or Society? 5 Dec. 2012
By Jayne P. Bowers - Published on
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Nature/nurture is one of the biggest "debates" in psychology, and intelligence is an area in which this issue is hotly contested. Does heredity matter more than environment, or can one's environment influence intellectual ability? James Flynn noticed that IQ scores had been increasing from one generation to the next over the past century and wondered why. Were the tests getting easier, or was something else going on?

The Flynn effect, IQ gains from one generation to the next, is a topic that I've seen crop up in texts over the past several years, so when I saw this book, I ordered it right away. Flynn gives the reader much food for thought and feels that increased mental abilities are needed to help us deal more effectively with the complexity of the modern world.

But why have IQ scores increased? My favorite chapter, "The Social Imagination," is one in which Flynn discusses the importance of the social scenario and invites the reader to take society seriously. Genes don't limit potential; we need to look more at social behavior for answers.

Although scientific, Are We Getting Smarter? is an easy to comprehend book for anyone interested in learning more about the mysteries behind IQ. Written without a lot of confusing research mumbo-jumbo, Flynn clearly states his beliefs and includes several interesting facts to back them up. Especially compelling are the tables at the end of the book.

Nature/nurture and intelligence are topics of great interest to psychologists. If you have any curiosity in knowing about the latest research in these fields, you'd enjoy this book.
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