How Smart Is Smart? Using An MRI To Quantify Human Intelligence


IQ Testing And Beyond: How Science Is Making Use Of MRI Technology To Quantify Human Intelligence

Imagine a conversation among dog owners as to whose breed is the smartest. The owner of the bloodhound might say his dog is smartest, due to the breed’s ability to hunt down prey unerringly.

But the owner of the border collie might attempt to claim the prize based on her breed’s ability to herd sheep and take non-verbal commands.

And that’s just for dogs–now let’s talk about humans. Attempting to measure human intelligence is a much more difficult thing, and has been contentious probably for as long as we’ve been humans. There is the problem of subjectivity–who’s measure of intelligence and what are the parameters for deciding it?


Now a group of scientists is saying they have taken the guesswork and subjectivity out of thinking about human intelligence by employing MRI technology to measure what is happening in the brain.

The study isolated different parts of the brain, and how they interact at various times, and how this information relates to intelligence, and ultimately how brain function is tied in to higher levels of intelligence and creativity.

Using magnetic resonance imaging, the researchers measured resting-state brainscans of people around the world. The results showed that areas of the brain that are connected to intelligence display higher levels of variability when compared to areas that aren’t associated with intelligence. Regions of the brain connected to intelligence are subject to frequent changes in the active neural connections they have to other regions of the brain. And the changes take place in a matter of minutes or even seconds.

Conversely, regions of the brain which aren’t associated with intelligence–the visual, auditory, and sensory-motor areas–show small variability and adaptability.

The study’s authors suggest that the research cold have implications for understanding mental health in terms of how the brain’s functions vary in patients with schizophrenia, autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Being able to identify the root, biomechanical cause of such dysfunction could have earth-shattering implications for how we treat mental health in the future.

Another way the research could be put to practical use is in the field of artificial intelligence.

“Human intelligence is a widely and hotly debated topic,” said study lead author Professor Jianfeng Feng. “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 and inform developments in artificial intelligence.”

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