• Researchers analyzed IQ scores of people from 2006 to 2018
  • They saw a drop in the scores, similar to the trend seen in other places
  • IQ tests have been quite controversial

Intelligence quotient (IQ) scores appear to be dropping in the U.S., showing a reversal of what's known as the Flynn Effect, a new analysis has found.

As part of a study, published in the journal Intelligence, a group of researchers analyzed whether the Flynn Effect, or a reversal of it, was happening in the U.S. The Flynn Effect refers to an upward drift in IQ scores with each successive generation since 1932.

"For example, if we tested a sample of baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) when they were 20 years old and compared their scores on the same test to a sample of millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) tested at age 20, we would expect the latter group's IQ scores to be between 0.66 and 1.1 SD higher," the researchers wrote. "This isn't to say that the sample of millennials are smarter or more able than the group of baby boomers, but that a difference in scores exists favoring the younger generation."

However, these gains were not expected to "last forever" and a stagnation or even a reversal of the effect was observed in the past two decades. But the studies were focused more on Europe, the researchers said. When it comes to the U.S., studies are rather "limited."

To shed light on the Flynn Effect in the U.S., the researchers analyzed the results of an online IQ test from 2006 to 2018. It involved nearly 400,000 adults.

The team found signs of a reversal of the Flynn Effect in the large U.S. sample, with the IQ scores dropping. It suggests that the reversal may be happening in the U.S. as well.

This was observed "regardless of age, education, or gender," but the steepest declines were observed in those aged 18 to 22 and those with lower levels of education or with less than a four-year college degree.

However, researchers did find some variations in skills, reported For instance, previous generations had better spatial reasoning but were worse in other areas such as problem-solving and verbal reasoning.

The exact reason behind this reversal of the Flynn Effect is unclear. However, researchers say some factors such as changes to the education system could possibly be contributing to it.

"It...underlines the need for further research using large adult samples to understand if the Flynn effect or if its reversal is a phenomenon in the United States during the twenty-first century," the researchers wrote.

Such tests have been criticized for only measuring a narrow set of skills and leading to the labeling of some students as "slow learners." Intelligence is much too complex to be measured by a test, critics say.

But, there's also the view that these tests still have merit. They continue to be improved and refined, and have, in some ways, helped identify talented students regardless of their backgrounds. They have also been able to help identify underlying learning disabilities in students, thus helping them get the necessary help.

While it appears that such tests do have merit, especially as they improve, what's important is to not define intelligence by these parameters alone. As mentioned, intelligence is complex. And these tests, depending on how they're used and viewed, may either help people to reach their potential or hinder their growth.

A keyboard
Representation. The keyboard of a laptop. Pixies/Pixabay