# Smart Phones And The Flynn Effect

#### fresh_42

Mentor
2018 Award
Sources first:
Bernt Bratsberg and Ole Rogeberg said:
Population intelligence quotients increased throughout the 20th century—a phenomenon known as the Flynn effect—although recent years have seen a slowdown or reversal of this trend in several countries. To distinguish between the large set of proposed explanations, we categorize hypothesized causal factors by whether they accommodate the existence of within-family Flynn effects. Using administrative register data and cognitive ability scores from military conscription data covering three decades of Norwegian birth cohorts (1962–1991), we show that the observed Flynn effect, its turning point, and subsequent decline can all be fully recovered from within-family variation. The analysis controls for all factors shared by siblings and finds no evidence for prominent causal hypotheses of the decline implicating genes and environmental factors that vary between, but not within, families.
https://www.pnas.org/content/115/26/6674

Our smartphones enable—and encourage—constant connection to information, entertainment, and each other. They put the world at our fingertips, and rarely leave our sides. Although these devices have immense potential to improve welfare, their persistent presence may come at a cognitive cost. In this research, we test the “brain drain” hypothesis that the mere presence of one’s own smartphone may occupy limited-capacity cognitive resources, thereby leaving fewer resources available for other tasks and undercutting cognitive performance. Results from two experiments indicate that even when people are successful at maintaining sustained attention—as when avoiding the temptation to check their phones—the mere presence of these devices reduces available cognitive capacity. Moreover, these cognitive costs are highest for those highest in smartphone dependence. We conclude by discussing the practical implications of this smartphone-induced brain drain for consumer decision-making and consumer welfare.
https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/691462

I stumbled upon it here (emphasis mine):
https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/research-confirms-it-really-are-getting-dumber.htm
and an interesting point is
... What's behind the loss of smarts? Scientists hypothesize changes in our education systems, nutrition, the current media environment, a decline in reading and an increase in online activity as possible culprits. Some blame the IQ test itself ...
so I do not want to discuss such test at all. Whatever one may think about them, I think they will definitely reflect a tendency, which is far more interesting as to what extend an IQ test measures what. I find it too easy to blame the measurement. In my opinion, this would merely distract from the observation. And this is what I think should be discussed.

I remember a dialogue I had about the layout of a modern IDE. The youngster had set it to a vast collection of icons and I said I couldn't handle this: "I want roll down menus, I can read! Do you expect me to learn three dozens of icons for each software I use?" I found that symptomatic.

Another observation of mine is, and I include myself, that since we get used to short video clips, or even shorter cuts within them like in music videos, our attention span has continuously decreased. This would have been somewhere since the early 80's which coincides with the time the authors above measured the reversal of the Flynn effect.

So my provocative question is: Do we make us dumber with each new technology we use?

Related General Discussion News on Phys.org

#### phinds

Gold Member
So my provocative question is: Do we make us dumber with each new technology we use?
You might want to limit that to certain TYPES of technology. I think most technological improvements have nothing to do with making us smarter or dumber. Just think of simple but significant things such as electric motors and their multitudinous uses. Do washing machines make us dumber? I could go on and on.

#### OCR

Do washing machines make us dumber?
I'm not sure yet... ours quit working yesterday, so it needs to be fixed... by me!

I could go on and on.
I wish you had stopped before... "washing machines". . .

Lol... JK.

.

#### fresh_42

Mentor
2018 Award
You might want to limit that to certain TYPES of technology. I think most technological improvements have nothing to do with making us smarter or dumber. Just think of simple but significant things such as electric motors and their multitudinous uses. Do washing machines make us dumber? I could go on and on.
Yes, that was of course a rhetoric reduction. As mentioned in the title and in my example of icon-usage I obviously meant our modern world of communication and how we display the interfaces of electronic screens nowadays.

Mentor
2018 Award
OCR

#### OCR

"Ephraim! Our machine is walking!"

I can read no more... I can not continue!! . . .

.

Last edited:

#### hmmm27

The machines that make life simpler, make... life ... do I have to say it ?

#### Nik_2213

"Do washing machines make us dumber?"
Ours makes me speechless with rage when it halts mid-cycle...
/
FWIW, after a decade out of CAD, I'm having ghastly problems trying to relearn stuff I knew. Currently clinging to lowest pitons on TurboCAD's training wall...

Um, I used M$'Office' suite at work, gradually came to loathe its bloat and knack of complicating my work-flow. I've devolved to the classic 'Notepad' for text-bashing, with 'Wordpad' and 'Libre' in reserve. Graphics handled by nimble 'Irfan View', via its 'just complex enough' interface... OT: M$ have now quietly, quietly fixed Notepad's silly word-wrap bug they introduced along with all those wondrous features a few months ago...

#### Klystron

Gold Member
While appreciating the humor of 'washing machine' comparisons, appliance analogies are too limited compared to 'smart phones'.

Smart phones do not just perform a task (communication) and replace older tech (telephones), they represent an essential link and interface to vast stores of information and applications far beyond dedicated tasks such as washing and drying laundry. Other technology threads explore and attempt to list 'what smart phones do'; yet are still incomplete.

#### russ_watters

Mentor
So my provocative question is: Do we make us dumber with each new technology we use?
Probably, but I think it is a worthwhile trade-off that we seem smarter.

#### russ_watters

Mentor
You might want to limit that to certain TYPES of technology. I think most technological improvements have nothing to do with making us smarter or dumber. Just think of simple but significant things such as electric motors and their multitudinous uses. Do washing machines make us dumber? I could go on and on.
I don't think the difference is as big as you are making it out to be. Physical devices make us physically weaker just as information devices make us dumber. In both cases the task we offload to the machine we get worse at as a result. It's the same issue.

#### fresh_42

Mentor
2018 Award
Probably, but I think it is a worthwhile trade-off that we seem smarter.
I think we can look up things so easily nowadays, that the necessity and therewith the capability to remember them has been decreased. Examples like the multiplication table come to mind, maybe even orthography! Smileys are the new words, icons the new labels!

#### russ_watters

Mentor
I think we can look up things so easily nowadays, that the necessity and therewith the capability to remember them has been decreased. Examples like the multiplication table come to mind, maybe even orthography!
Agreed, but it's more than just memory. A couple of other examples;

-My dad can do math in his head far faster and more accurately than I can.

-Language processing is more than just memory. It's understanding and applying grammar rules properly, for example, is a growing problem in my perception.

But I was serious when I said I think it is worth the tradeoff and it was a partial joke to say we "seem" smarter. The engineering output I or my company can do today far exceeds what we did in the past, despite our reduced skills. So with lower skills we turn out a superior product and that's a net win in my book.

#### phinds

Gold Member
... understanding and applying grammar rules properly, for example, is a growing problem in my perception.
Boy howdy do I ever agree w/ that. The proper use of pronouns is almost a totally lost ability. I constantly hear public figures and TV personalities (supposedly "journalists" whose TOOL is language) and seemingly educated guests using pronouns in ways that would have been considered shamefully ignorant 50 years ago.

Mentor

#### fresh_42

Mentor
2018 Award
(I had to look up that word...)
"ortho" is right as the right angles ("gon") in orthogonal bases, and "graphy" is carving the stones! Guess we already lost this ability when we stopped writing messages in stones. Imagine the trouble they must have had correcting a spell error!

#### ZeGato

What exactly is "familial intelligence"? Couldn't families be changing and people choosing lower IQ partners? With the Norwegian welfare system there's virtually no chance of ending up homeless or without food anymore, and choosing a partner from "good families" to guarantee survival isn't prioritary like it used to be a few decades ago.
Uneducated people also tend to have more children even within the same "family", however they define it, and a developed economy pretty much guarantees the same survival rate independently of the socioeconomic background. This also didn't use to be the case until recently.

#### phinds

Gold Member
I believe this was the first documented case of that happening...

Thanks. I REALLY got a chuckle out of that.

#### fresh_42

Mentor
2018 Award
What exactly is "familial intelligence"? Couldn't families be changing and people choosing lower IQ partners? With the Norwegian welfare system there's virtually no chance of ending up homeless or without food anymore, and choosing a partner from "good families" to guarantee survival isn't prioritary like it used to be a few decades ago. Uneducated people also tend to have more children even within the same "family", however they define it.
A few decades? That must have been more than just a few.
• You implicitly claim that IQ and income are positively related: Can you support this, or is it just a wild guess?
• You also equal education and intelligence, which is also a wild guess. Moreover the paper explains, how they eliminated family effects.
• Your third implicit assumption is, that matching marriages had been and is no more driven by economical goals. I doubt this. My antithesis is, that it was and is far more driven by sociological reasons. So again, can you support this claim?
I got the impression that prejudices are the motivator of your statements rather than facts.

#### ZeGato

A few decades? That must have been more than just a few.
• You implicitly claim that IQ and income are positively related: Can you support this, or is it just a wild guess?
• You also equal education and intelligence, which is also a wild guess. Moreover the paper explains, how they eliminated family effects.
• Your third implicit assumption is, that matching marriages had been and is no more driven by economical goals. I doubt this. My antithesis is, that it was and is far more driven by sociological reasons. So again, can you support this claim?
I got the impression that prejudices are the motivator of your statements rather than facts.
1. Many studies were done on the subject, and yes, there is a positive relationship between the two.
This post is very informative on this, and it uses this study as the source, among others that it links.
2. That study you cited states: "Polygenic scores that predict education are correlated with IQ"
3. It's fair to assume that with a welfare state guaranteeing your and your children's survival, economic goals are no longer as important as they were 50 years ago when this wasn't the case. Any exploration of the causes for lower IQ over the decades should start with the parents' IQ, which is the best predictor for children's IQ, instead of delving into more exotic and unproven explanations like technology lowering our IQ IMO.

This study relies on families with two or more male siblings for their model, that they then use to generalize for the whole population. There are far simpler explanations for the IQ lowering cited in this same study, even though environmental factors may also play a role.

#### DennisN

So my provocative question is: Do we make us dumber with each new technology we use?
Interesting question. And as with most technology, I think important questions also are how we use technology and how much we use it.

I think it is good that the use of quite new technology like internet, smart phones and social media is studied and discussed, and that also social and health aspects are considered; here's another recent study which I personally found very interesting:

Paper: Hunt, Marx et al, No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression (Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology)
Article about the research: Social media use increases depression and loneliness (Penn Today)

Edit: The study is not about intelligence, but I wanted to share it since others may find it interesting. My intention is not to change the topic .

Last edited:

#### lpetrich

Could a lot of the problem with smartphones be feeling that one has to respond every time one gets an alert -- and respond right away? It ought to be a simple matter to have one's phone collect one's alerts, so one can respond to them at one's leisure.

ETA: about loneliness and depression, correlation need not mean causation in one direction. It could be a case of the most lonely and depressed people having social media as their only social outlet.

#### PeterDonis

Mentor
It ought to be a simple matter to have one's phone collect one's alerts, so one can respond to them at one's leisure.
On my phone, I have "do not disturb" on virtually all the time. That means the phone only alerts me if the incoming call/notification is on the list of those important enough to disturb me. (Right now the only one who falls into that category is my wife.) I can look at the other notifications and deal with them when I have time.

"Smart Phones And The Flynn Effect"

### Physics Forums Values

We Value Quality
• Topics based on mainstream science
• Proper English grammar and spelling
We Value Civility
• Positive and compassionate attitudes
• Patience while debating
We Value Productivity
• Disciplined to remain on-topic
• Recognition of own weaknesses
• Solo and co-op problem solving