One Century of Global IQ Gains: A Formal Meta-Analysis of the Flynn Effect (1909-2013)

Perspect Psychol Sci. 2015 May;10(3):282-306. doi: 10.1177/1745691615577701.


The Flynn effect (rising intelligence test performance in the general population over time and generations) varies enigmatically across countries and intelligence domains; its substantive meaning and causes remain elusive. This first formal meta-analysis on the topic revealed worldwide IQ gains across more than one century (1909-2013), based on 271 independent samples, totaling almost 4 million participants, from 31 countries. Key findings include that IQ gains vary according to domain (estimated 0.41, 0.30, 0.28, and 0.21 IQ points annually for fluid, spatial, full-scale, and crystallized IQ test performance, respectively), are stronger for adults than children, and have decreased in more recent decades. Altogether, these findings narrow down proposed theories and candidate factors presumably accounting for the Flynn effect. Factors associated with life history speed seem mainly responsible for the Flynn effect's general trajectory, whereas favorable social multiplier effects and effects related to economic prosperity appear to be responsible for observed differences of the Flynn effect across intelligence domains.

Keywords: Flynn effect; generational IQ gains; intelligence; meta-analysis.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Intelligence*