Adults’ ability to concentrate has increased over the past 20 to 30 years. This is the result of the meta-analysis in the magazine.Personality and individual differences“. The research group led by Denis Andrzejewski of the University of Vienna sees this as preliminary evidence that attention is also subject to the Flynn effect.
The Flynn effect refers to a phenomenon observed in many countries in the mid- to late 20th century: the average IQ — the result of standardized intelligence tests — rose from generation to generation. This effect is named after the political scientist James Flynn, who first reported on it in 1984. On average, IQ has risen by about three points per decade, but development has now stagnated in some countries, and the trend has even reversed in some countries. To this day, experts do not agree on the causes.
The ability to concentrate may be a component of general intelligence and contribute to the Flynn effect. Using this idea, the team led by the Viennese psychologist analyzed data from 179 studies, from a total of more than 21,000 people from 32 countries, including Germany, Austria and Switzerland: all between 1990 and 2021. Standard psychological test “D2” Complete, which embodies the ability for selective and sustained attention – the ability to concentrate.
The test consists of 14 lines (12 lines in the new version), and each line is filled with 47 letters, including only the letters d and p and sometimes one or two small vertical lines above or below the letters. Task: Cross out each d with two lines, as accurately as possible, but also as quickly as possible, because the time is set at an average of 20 seconds per line.
On average, attention performance (defined as the number of correct answers minus incorrect answers) increased moderately over the years in adults. As for the children, it remained more or less the same: although they worked increasingly faster, they made more errors. The researchers interpret this as an indication of hasty and more superficial testing behavior, perhaps due to the fact that society is now more tolerant of errors and that performance is measured in terms of speed more than accuracy.
However, the results were slightly different when the group looked at German-speaking countries separately. Children did not make more errors, they made fewer errors, and adults’ ability to concentrate did not increase. The general conclusion across more than 30 countries was that the Flynn effect also applies to the ability to concentrate. This increase could contribute to increased intelligence – the actual Flynn effect.