Why are some people stupid and others intelligent, the cosmos in their heads?

It strikes me that some people have a wider view, make better decisions, in short: are more intelligent. Others are rather stupid. I wonder how that happens.

The editor’s answer is:

Dr. Response Ulrike Basten and Prof. Dr. Christian Fiebach, Department of Neurocognitive Psychology on institute for Psychology at Goethe University Frankfurt am Main: Everyone knows this: Some children learn faster than others and do better in all school subjects. It is similar later in the job: some colleagues understand problems particularly quickly and suggest better solutions. The fact that some people deal better with cognitive challenges than others can be largely explained by differences in general intelligence. A high level of intelligence favors success at school and at work, health and even a long life. But why do we differ in our intelligence?

There is no single region in the human brain that is responsible for intelligent performance. Rather, it is a network of certain regions of the cerebral cortex (frontal and parietal) and some subcortical regions that is important for intelligence.

A common notion is that the brains of more intelligent people work more efficiently. This means that more intelligent people can achieve a certain level of performance with less neuronal effort when faced with cognitive challenges. However, studies that investigated the connection between intelligence and brain activity with electroencephalography (EEG) or functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) do not fully support this assumption. We assume that more intelligent people can only do light to moderate tasks with less brain activity. On the other hand, when it comes to difficult tasks, the brains of cognitively powerful people run at full speed, while less intelligent people show weaker activation – possibly because they give up earlier in difficult tasks.

According to recent studies, differences in intelligence could be explained by a different network organization of the brain. This organization is shown, for example, as a functional coupling of different brain regions under rest conditions. Here, too, it looks as if intelligent brains are not organized more efficiently overall. For example, they do not generally have closer connections. But individual regions are characterized by special networking among intelligent people. We recently examined the connections between different sub-networks (or ‘modules’) of the brain for the first time and found something interesting: Certain regions of the brain were more involved in the exchange of information between modules in more intelligent people. We believe that the network characteristics of smarter people will make it easier for them to concentrate mentally. Irrelevant, possibly disruptive stimuli can be better hidden. This could be a general benefit for higher cognitive performance.

The causes of the connections between brain features and intelligence are not yet sufficiently understood. Due to biological predispositions, some people may train brain networks that make intelligent performance more likely. However, the more frequent use of the brain for more intelligent services could just as well have a positive effect on the formation of networks in the brain. In everything we do about the influence of investment and environment knowing on intelligence, an interplay of both processes seems most likely. In conclusion, one must also say that one cannot simply divide people into "stupid" and "intelligent" ones. We are all on a wide range of cognitive abilities, and people who seem "stupid" to others may have talents in areas that are not covered by standardized intelligence tests.

Recorded by Andreas Grasskamp


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