Fox and Mitchum on the Flynn Effect and how it works

James R. Flynn recommends this paper, by Fox and Mitchum, in his new book:

Secular gains in intelligence test scores have perplexed researchers since they were documented by Flynn (1984, 1987). Gains are most pronounced on abstract, so-called culture-free tests, prompting Flynn (2007) to attribute them to problem solving skills availed by scientifically advanced cultures. We propose that recent-born individuals have adopted an approach to analogy that enables them to infer higher-level relations requiring roles that are not intrinsic to the objects that constitute initial representations of items. This proposal is translated into item-specific predictions about differences between cohorts in pass rates and item-response patterns on the Raven’s Matrices, a seemingly culture-free test that registers the largest Flynn effect. Consistent with predictions, archival data reveal that individuals born around 1940 are less able to map objects at higher levels of relational abstraction than individuals born around 1990. Polytomous Rasch models verify predicted violations of measurement invariance as raw scores are found to underestimate the number of analogical rules inferred by members of the earlier cohort relative to members of the later cohort who achieve the same overall score. The work provides a plausible cognitive account of the Flynn effect, furthers understanding of the cognition of matrix reasoning, and underscores the need to consider how test-takers select item responses.

The paper is here (pdf).


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