New research has revealed a link between how our brains are ‘wired’ and intellectual or social ability.
The findings were part of the project which is a $30 million partnership between Oxford University and Washington and Minnesota Universities in the US. The study was conducted in order to study real-time images of “living circuit diagrams” that depict communication signals between different parts of the brain.
As part of the ‘Human Connectome Project‘ scientists analysed the connectivity between different parts of the brain in hundreds of healthy people and found a link between how well connected some people were to their cognitive abilities and their general success in life.
The study also found that certain attributes or positive characteristics , such as vocabulary, memory, happiness and years of education, had a significant impact on connectivity between areas of the brain most associated with higher cognition.
Scientists analysed ‘connectome’ patterns from brain scan data on 461 volunteers.
In contrast, people who scored high in more negative traits such as anger, drug abuse, addiction and poor sleep quality, were found to have a significantly lower level of connectivity.
“We’ve tried to see how we can relate what we see in the brain to the behavioural skills we can measure in different people. In doing this, we hope to able to understand what goes on ‘under the bonnet’ of the brain,” said Professor Stephen Smith of Oxford University, who led the study published in Nature Neuroscience.
Within each MRI analysis, a notable element of connectivity stood out to researchers. This was the connectivity between parts of the brain involved in higher levels of cognition such as learning and language, according to Professor Smith.
“You can think of it as a population-average map of 200 regions across the brain that are functionally distinct from one another. Then we looked at how much all of those regions communicated with each other, in every participant,” Professor Smith told The Independent.
“The quality of the imaging data is really unprecedented. Not only is the number of subjects we get to study large, but the resolution of the fMRI data is way ahead of previous large datasets,” he said.
These findings, especially those associated with the connection between specific parts of the brain and memory or learning, could assist scientists in understanding issues of general intelligence and potentially change the current testing or grading system used by schools.
“It may be that with hundreds of different brain circuits, the tests that are used to measure cognitive ability actually make use of different sets of overlapping circuits,” Professor Smith said.
“We hope that by looking at brain-imaging data we’ll be able to relate connections in the brain to the specific measures, and work out what these kinds of test actually require the brain to do,” he said.
Whilst brain training is all the rage, this research could help scientists and the medical industry, to tailor training packages for individuals and improve their ability to achieve more than previously thought.
“It’s a question of whether it’s possible to move people up the axis of connectivity. We know from other research that it is possible to improve cognitive performance with training, but what we don’t know yet is whether this is true of connectivity,” he explained.
If you could train your brain to perform better, would you?