Human Intelligence and Medical Illness: Assessing the Flynn Effect


There’s little doubt that people are growing smarter. This effect is so strong that IQ tests must be renormed periodically to prevent classifying an overabundance of people as geniuses. The question is why is this collective rise in IQ – known as the Flynn effect –occurring? Possible theories to explain the Flynn effect have ranged from better parenting to faster evolution.

Bringing a bold new voice to the debate, Human Intelligence and Medical Illness sets out a simple ...

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There’s little doubt that people are growing smarter. This effect is so strong that IQ tests must be renormed periodically to prevent classifying an overabundance of people as geniuses. The question is why is this collective rise in IQ – known as the Flynn effect –occurring? Possible theories to explain the Flynn effect have ranged from better parenting to faster evolution.

Bringing a bold new voice to the debate, Human Intelligence and Medical Illness sets out a simple definition of intelligence that is appropriate for assessing intelligence at the population level. The definition is then used to probe the relationship between population intelligence and public health. This volume uses the latest medical and behavioral science research to argue that declines in serious disease and illness-causing conditions (e.g., lead paint in buildings) correlate strongly with continued cognitive gains in both developed and developing countries. Current political realities explain why the Flynn effect should be approached as a public policy as well as a public health issue.

This provocative volume:

• Reviews the most widely held hypotheses accounting for the Flynn effect.

• Examines the relationship between intelligence and public health.

• Assesses the extent to which public health improvements can potentially account for the Flynn effect.

• Details how treatment of common medical problems may result in a substantial rise in IQ.

• Explores the possibility of continued IQ gains in the United States and worldwide.

• Reframes the Flynn effect in the contexts of public health, early childhood education, and social justice.

With its groundbreaking findings on the causes of cognitive impairment and the possibility of cognitive improvement, Human Intelligence and Medical Illness is must-reading for researchers, professors, and graduate students in developmental psychology, education, public health, psychiatry, neuroscience, social work, and related fields.

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Editorial Reviews

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: Christopher J Graver, PhD, ABPP-CN(Madigan Healthcare System)
Description: Intellectual quotients are highly sought after by many organizations as a benchmark for everything from identifying Mensa members to qualifying for services related to developmental or learning disabilities. This book explores the nature of IQ testing, changes that have occurred, and conditions that can impact it.
Purpose: The book is part of the Human Exceptionality series and aims to provide readers with comprehensive information about intelligence testing, trends, and current literature.
Audience: Clinical and school psychologists would find this book interesting, but others working in developmental fields also would find it of use. The book is not a how-to manual for administering IQ tests, and it assumes a relative familiarity with testing and psychometrics, as well as the common flaws in IQ tests. The author earned his doctorate in biology and has worked in various academic positions in the departments of radiology, pediatrics, psychiatry, and biomedical engineering. Recent publications have been in the area of neuroimaging, so there is nothing immediately obvious in his CV that would indicate strong credentials to write a book on this topic.
Features: The first chapter begins with a discussion of the Flynn Effect and presents some possible hypotheses. One eccentricity that is immediately apparent is the use of "we," despite the fact that the book has one author. The book goes on to discuss various theories that have been proposed to explain the Flynn Effect and the problems with them. These are well compartmentalized, which makes it difficult to find a common idea and leads to contradictions in the author's reasoning between sections. Just one example is the early discussion of how small brain size is a poor indicator of intelligence, but then in chapter 7, the author states, "We know that people of low IQ are generally likely to have a smaller brain" to support one of his arguments. The author also states that cognitive alterations soon after a trauma are in the definition of PTSD, which is patently not the case according to the DSM-IV criteria for the disorder. Furthermore, he states that the issue of cognitive dysfunction in PTSD is "clear-cut" using only a single, flawed reference for support. It should be noted that the article he cites states that neuropsychological findings in individuals with PTSD are inconsistent. The book does no better when covering medical illnesses that could impact intelligence, as often there are limited references to support the author's conclusions. Additionally, he follows some research-based conclusions with statements such as, "but we will assume," and proceeds to suggest different results with no additional references. There are no introductory or concluding paragraphs to provide clarity and the references appear at the end of the book instead of at the end of each chapter, making for a lot of unnecessary page-flipping.
Assessment: This is a superficial review of the intellectual issues presented. The research support is subpar and opinion is interlaced with the literature. It is a feeble attempt that is certainly not worth the $129 price.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781441981332
  • Publisher: Springer New York
  • Publication date: 11/1/2010
  • Series: Springer Series on Human Exceptionality
  • Edition description: 2009
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 218
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.49 (d)

Meet the Author

R. Grant Steen has written 5 books and 70 research articles, mostly about the human brain in health and disease. He has been a professor of psychiatry, pediatrics, biomedical engineering, and radiology (brain imaging), and he worked for 20 years in clinical research at various medical schools and hospitals. He earned a Doctorate in Biology from UCLA, held a National Research Service Award at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and he has been a faculty member at the University of Washington, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the University of Tennessee, and the University of North Carolina. Dr. Steen now consults and writes about the brain full-time.

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Table of Contents

Are People Getting Smarter?.- Human IQ and Increasing Intelligence.- Evolution and Increasing Intelligence.- Brain Development and Increasing Intelligence.- Environment and Increasing Intelligence.- Evidence of Physical Plasticity in Humans.- Evidence of Mental Plasticity in Humans.- Evidence of Language Plasticity in Humans.- Impact of Medical Illnes on Human IQ in the United States.- Impact of the Medical Illness on Human IQ Worldwide.- Medical Interventions for IQ Impairment.- Increasing IQ in the United States.- Increasing IQ and Social Justice.
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