The Flynn effect: a meta-analysis

Psychol Bull. 2014 Sep;140(5):1332-60. doi: 10.1037/a0037173. Epub 2014 Jun 30.


The Flynn effect refers to the observed rise in IQ scores over time, which results in norms obsolescence. Although the Flynn effect is widely accepted, most efforts to estimate it have relied upon "scorecard" approaches that make estimates of its magnitude and error of measurement controversial and prevent determination of factors that moderate the Flynn effect across different IQ tests. We conducted a meta-analysis to determine the magnitude of the Flynn effect with a higher degree of precision, to determine the error of measurement, and to assess the impact of several moderator variables on the mean effect size. Across 285 studies (N = 14,031) since 1951 with administrations of 2 intelligence tests with different normative bases, the meta-analytic mean was 2.31, 95% CI [1.99, 2.64], standard score points per decade. The mean effect size for 53 comparisons (N = 3,951, excluding 3 atypical studies that inflate the estimates) involving modern (since 1972) Stanford-Binet and Wechsler IQ tests (2.93, 95% CI [2.3, 3.5], IQ points per decade) was comparable to previous estimates of about 3 points per decade but was not consistent with the hypothesis that the Flynn effect is diminishing. For modern tests, study sample (larger increases for validation research samples vs. test standardization samples) and order of administration explained unique variance in the Flynn effect, but age and ability level were not significant moderators. These results supported previous estimates of the Flynn effect and its robustness across different age groups, measures, samples, and levels of performance.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Capital Punishment / statistics & numerical data
  • Education, Special
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / psychology
  • Intelligence / physiology*
  • Intelligence Tests / statistics & numerical data*