The cognitive impact of the education revolution: A possible cause of the Flynn Effect on population IQ

David P. Baker, Paul J. Eslinger, Martin Benavides, Ellen Peters, Nathan F. Dieckmann, Juan Leon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


The phenomenon of rising IQ scores in high-income nations over the 20th century, known as the Flynn Effect, indicates historical increase in mental abilities related to planning, organization, working memory, integration of experience, spatial reasoning, unique problem-solving, and skills for goal-directed behaviors. Given prior research on the impact of formal education on IQ, a three-tiered hypothesis positing that schooling, and its expansion and intensification over the education revolution, is one likely cause of the Flynn Effect is tested in three studies. First, a neuroimaging experiment with children finds that neuromaturation is shaped by common activities in school, such as numeracy, and share a common neural substrate with fluid IQ abilities. Second, a field study with adults from insolated agrarian communities finds that variable exposure to schooling is associated with related variation in the mental abilities. Third, a historical-institutional analysis of the cognitive requirements of American mathematics curriculum finds a growing cognitive demand for birth cohorts from later in the 20th century. These findings suggest a consilience of evidence about the impact of mass education on the Flynn Effect and are discussed in light of the g-factor paradigm, cognition, and the Bell Curve debate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)144-158
Number of pages15
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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