Standard of practice and Flynn Effect testimony in death penalty cases

Frank M. Gresham, Department of Psychology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA.
Daniel J. Reschly


The Flynn Effect is a well-established psychometric fact documenting substantial increases in measured intelligence test performance over time. Flynn's (1984) review of the literature established that Americans gain approximately 0.3 points per year or 3 points per decade in measured intelligence. The accurate assessment and interpretation of intellectual functioning becomes critical in death penalty cases that seek to determine whether an individual meets the criteria for intellectual disability and thereby is ineligible for execution under Atkins v. Virginia (2002) . We reviewed the literature on the Flynn Effect and demonstrated how failure to adjust intelligence test scores based on this phenomenon invalidates test scores and may be in violation of the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing as well as the "Ethical Principles for Psychologists and Code of Conduct." Application of the Flynn Effect and score adjustments for obsolete norms clearly is supported by science and should be implemented by practicing psychologists.