Once upon a time, researchers who studied IQ trends puzzled over a paradox: studies consistently showed that identical twins (i.e., same genes) did about the same on IQ tests even when they were separated at birth. At the same time, however, studies show that IQ scores have generally risen over time. The first finding would suggest that environmental changes do not matter; the second suggests that obviously something has happened — more nutrition? Better health? Better education? — to make for smarter people.
The person who largely solved this paradox — James R. Flynn — did so by coming up with the concept of individual and social “multipliers.” Say you and your twin brother are separated at birth and grow up tall and sturdy and with a love for basketball. Once you reach P.E. class, your height may help — teams will pick you to be on their side; coaches will take an interest; you’ll start practicing more; you get better. In other words, there is a feedback loop in which your genes (height+strength) upgraded your environment (training+teams+coach+practice).
But it’s the social multiplier I’m particularly interested in. Here’s Flynn on an example:
Look at what the industrial revolution did to basketball by the invention of TV. It gave basketball a mass audience, it increased the pay a professional player could expect. Wider and keener participation raised the general skill level, you had to shoot more and more accurately to excel. That higher average performance fed back into play: Those who learned to shoot with either hand became the best — and then they became the norm — which meant you had to be able to pass with either hand to excel — and then that became the norm — and so forth. Every escalation of the average population performance raised individual performance, which escalated the average performance further, and you get a huge escalation of basketball skills in a single generation.
Fascinating, no? The obvious question for me is: will television make for better cricketers? I’d say that the first cohort that grew up with televised cricket is only now reaching international cricket (that is, people born in the mid-1980s in India). It’s entirely plausible that constantly watching cricket, slow-motion replays, commentator deconstructions, pressure situations, etc. will make cricketers more intelligent and talented than the previous generation. And it’ll be even more interesting to see how the game changes as television in India increases its penetration (according to Wikipedia, roughly 150 million Indian households had TV in 2011).
Television, of course, isn’t the only “social multiplier” — as more Indians start to make money, they may spend more on leisure or coaching for their kids, increasing the talent pool. But since I’ve spent so much time on this blog bashing the effects of TV on cricket, I’d thought I’d credit it with at least broadening the appeal and participation of the game. I put this question to you: Do you think the quality of cricket you’re watching is better now than before? And if so, in what way — is the batting demonstrably better? Has fielding changed?