Economy-IQ feedback

Scientific American has an excellent podcast of an interview with James Flynn on his new book, Are We Getting Smarter? The podcast accompanies an article from the latest issue.

Flynn makes some interesting points throughout the discussion, including the following thoughts on the interaction between the economy and IQ:

One of the big surprises is that Scandinavia, the IQ gains tailed off towards the end of the last century and many of us thought and I had an open mind that that would mean that they would tail off in the rest of the developed world. Well, three data sets are in now from America, Britain and Germany and they haven’t. They seem to be humming along on the Wechsler tests, you know the WISC and the WAIS, at just about three points per decade. We’re in the 21st century a decade now and there they still are.

And this revises one’s calculations a bit. I’d thought the 21st century would see the developing world catching up. Well it is because their gains are going even faster. It will be tougher to catch up than I thought. I think it’s wrong to look at the developing world in isolation from what’s going on there economically because IQ rises with modernity. Lynn and many others make the mistake of sort of thinking that you have to leap from an IQ of 70 to 100 and then you modernize. Well, it’s like going up a ladder. You gain a bit in terms of the modern mindset, you modernize the economy a bit and then you go up again, you know, slowly.

In this scenario, there can be some strong benefits to IQ enhancing policy interventions as it can set the population into the virtuous circle of modernisation and IQ gain.

Flynn’s book comes out on 6 September.


  1. The obvious interpretation of this (& IQ test differences in general) is that IQ tests probably are testing “modernity” (i.e., a culturally transmitted set of congnitive biases) as much as innate differences–& probably far more.

    These seem to be highly correlated w/ literacy (perhaps as the core “symbolic competance”) which would be consistent w/ high performance of Jews & Asian (long literacy traditions) & low of Africans (virtually none) & African Americans (forbidded in slavery & suppressed in Jim Crow).

    So, there are clearly individual differences in innate ability at individual level, but cross-cutural difference in IQ test results are not in themselves evidence that these reflect differences among ethnicities that have a genetic component.

  2. “Lynn and many others make the mistake of sort of thinking that you have to leap from an IQ of 70 to 100 and then you modernize.”

    From what I’ve read of Lynn he doesn’t appear to think this at all. He argues that you get positive feedback from environmental (mainly nutritional?) improvements. He’s also quoted as saying this in The Times:

    “Our critics would suggest that we are confusing cause and effect, and that IQs are higher in rich countries because of better health, education and so on. But we don’t think that is likely: intelligence is the largest single factor behind national wealth. It then becomes a virtuous circle, with the benefits of the resulting affluence adding extra IQ points.”

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