How To Get Smarter (and Help the Developing World)

James Flynn’s Are We Getting Smarter? shows that there are solid IQ gains (the Flynn Effect) in the developed world. What about the developing world?

Evidence is sparse. Still, Flynn presents some data for seven developing countries.*

Here are the seven, with their average IQ and gains:

  • China (IQ 105) +0.440 points per year
  • Turkey (IQ 90) +0.525 points per year
  • Brazil (IQ 87) +0.236 points per year
  • Saudi Arabia (IQ 84) +0.355 points per year
  • Dominica (IQ 82) +0.514 points per year
  • Kenya (IQ 72) +0.989 points per year
  • Sudan (IQ 71) +0.203 points per year

(Words of warning: these data are usually based on one study, often with small samples, covering different years, with different age groups. Not highly reliable or very comparable.)

Overall it is a mixed picture: solid gains in some, modest in others.

If Flynn is right, then one of the priorities of development agencies and aid agencies ought to be to increase these gains. Flynn himself thinks that there is plenty of scope for more IQ gains in developing countries with three improvements: (1) better nutrition, (2) better health, and (2) less inbreeding, that is less consanguineous marriage. I concur. Better nutrition and health are standard goals in development aid. But what about less inbreeding, less cousin-marriage? Is that currently one of the goals of the development agencies and aid organizations? Perhaps it should become a priority. As part of such an initiative, it would be very worthwhile if the World Bank and/or the UN Development Programme began to collect IQ data in development countries to track the Flynn effect there.

So, I might be so bold as to say we need a Flynn Effect Action Plan targeting nutrition (especially iodine and micro-nutrients that affect brain functions), health (especially parasites), and inbreeding, with more attention to collecting data to track any resulting IQ gains.

*Data from: James Flynn, Are We Getting Smarter? Rising IQ in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge University Press, 2012) pp. 55-65.


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