Studying Intellectual Outliers: Are There Sex Differences, and Are the Smart Getting Smarter?
By studying samples of intellectual outliers across 30 years, researchers can leverage right-tail data (i.e., samples at or above the 95th percentile on tests of ability) to uncover missing pieces to two psychological puzzles: whether there are sex differences in cognitive abilities among smart people, and whether test scores are rising (a phenomenon known as the Flynn effect) among smart people. For the first puzzle, data indicate that the high male-to-female ratio among extremely high scorers on measures of math ability has decreased dramatically, but is still likely one factor among many explaining female underrepresentation in some professions. For the second puzzle, data indicate that the right tail has risen at a similar rate as the general (or middle portion of the) distribution; it is thus likely that the entire curve is rising at a relatively constant rate, consistent with the Flynn effect, which may explain why a greater number of gifted students have been identified in recent years. However, the causes for these gains and whether they reflect real gains in intelligence continue to remain a mystery. We show how these two puzzles are linked and stress the importance of paying attention to the entire distribution when attempting to address some scientific questions. © The Author(s) 2012.
Wai, J; Putallaz, M; Makel, MC
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