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Human intelligence question cracked using brain variability

What makes you smart? A new study finds that measuring the variability in the brain’s neural network might hold the clues to this clever question.

It’s said that variety is the spice of life, but it may also be a good measure of human intellect. What specifically makes someone clever is something that has long puzzled philosophers and, more recently, neuroscientists. Now, new research published in the journal Brain has for the first time quantified intelligence in humans by measuring variability in the brain.

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All in the mind

The collaborative research project between Warwick University and numerous Chinese institutions defines this variability as alterations in specific regions of the brain changing neural connections with other parts of the brain more frequently. To test this they measured the resting state MRI of 1080 individuals from around the world to measure blood flow changes in order to evaluate interactions within the brain.

The team discovered that individuals with a higher IQ had increased variability. Interestingly, they also found that parts of the brain associated with cognitive learning and development showed higher levels of variability compared with regions of the brain traditionally not associated with intelligence, such as the visual, auditory and sensory-motor areas.

“Human intelligence is a widely and hotly debated topic and only recently have advanced brain imaging techniques, such as those used in our current study, given us the opportunity to gain sufficient insights to resolve this,” says the leading study author Professor Jianfeng Feng.

Future brains

These findings could hold the key to future advances in artificial intelligence (AI), which will be shaped by a more accurate understanding of what drives intellect. Existing AI systems do not factor in variability, which these findings show as being important for human cognitive learning and development, so applying this information to computer systems might allow networks to adapt and apply relevant knowledge to their networks.

The research also has wider implications for the field of mental health, as altered variability patterns were observed in those with psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia, ADHD and autism. Feng adds that these findings will “help establish the basis for understanding and diagnosis of debilitating human mental disorders such as schizophrenia and depression.”

So next time someone calls you a clever clogs, just tell them about the variability in your brain’s neural network to really rub it in.


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