Imaging Neural Pathways In Brain Show Intelligence Levels
August 2, 2012

Imaging Neural Pathways In Brain Show Intelligence Levels

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

The brain is an intricate part of the body to say the least. And new research has focused on the effect of neural connectivity on one area of these intricacies, imaging a person's brain to estimate their level of intelligence.

Researchers have long thought that overall brain size can affect individual variations in intelligence. A past study delved into this particular topic and demonstrated that the brain´s lateral prefrontal cortex, a portion of the brain that is behind the temple, acts as an important focal point for high-level mental processing.

Recently, scientists from Washington University in St. Louis proposed that around 10 percent of variations in intelligence could be due to the neural pathways that connect the left lateral prefrontal cortex and the rest of the brain. The findings are featured in a recent edition of the Journal of Neuroscience and the authors of the paper discuss how “global brain connectivity” is an innovative way of understanding human intelligence.

"Our research shows that connectivity with a particular part of the prefrontal cortex can predict how intelligent someone is," explained lead author Michael W. Cole, a postdoctoral research fellow in cognitive neuroscience at Washington University, in a prepared statement.

The research is the first of its kind to examine how neural connections between the lateral prefrontal cortex and the other parts of the brain can add to cognitive processing, which ultimately affects human intelligence. In the study, the researchers analyzed functional magnetic resonance brain images of study participants at different times like resting periods or brain-stimulating mental activities. While the subjects took breaks, the scientists studied their neural connectivity.

"This study suggests that part of what it means to be intelligent is having a lateral prefrontal cortex that does its job well; and part of what that means is that it can effectively communicate with the rest of the brain," noted study co-author Todd Braver, professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences and of neuroscience and radiology in the School of Medicine, in the statement.

Based on the findings, the researchers believe that the lateral prefrontal regional acts as a “flexible hub” that can monitor and affect other brain regions with its brain-wide connectivity.

"There is evidence that the lateral prefrontal cortex is the brain region that 'remembers' (maintains) the goals and instructions that help you keep doing what is needed when you're working on a task," commented Cole in the statement. "So it makes sense that having this region communicating effectively with other regions (the 'perceivers' and 'doers' of the brain) would help you to accomplish tasks intelligently."

The lateral prefrontal cortex also assists in coordinating cognitive processing and keeps focus on targeted tasks.

"We're suggesting that the lateral prefrontal cortex functions like a feedback control system that is used often in engineering, that it helps implement cognitive control (which supports fluid intelligence), and that it doesn't do this alone," mentioned Cole in the statement.

The researchers believe that the findings could be useful in understanding human intelligence as well as breakdowns in global brain connectivity that lead to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.