16 May 2012

Using Brain Imaging to Replace IQ Tests and SATs

In 1988, Haier and his colleagues scanned volunteers while they attempted to solve problems from the Raven's Advanced Progressive Matrices, a nonverbal intelligence test. The scientists wanted to know which parts of the brain were active as the participants solved the problems. What they discovered was that there was an inverse relationship between brain activation and scores on the intelligence test.

In other words, smarter people had brains that could be more efficient.

Since that landmark study, the field of Neuro-Intelligence has started to take off. From 1988 to 2007, 37 imaging studies of intelligence and reasoning were published. From a 2007 synthesis of the literature, Rex Jung of the University of New Mexico and Haier concluded that intelligence was distributed across the brain and not focused in one part of the frontal lobe.

...Now Haier and his colleagues are collecting data to compare the brains of bright (IQs around 130 and higher) and average participants (IQs in the low 100's). They plan to use an imaging technique that will allow imaging of the problem solving experience to be recorded millisecond by millisecond.

According to Haier, "We will be able to see what parts of the brain are activated when people are solving problems. We can see the part of the brain that begins to work on the problem and where that information goes in the brain over the course of problem solving until there is an answer." _PsychologyToday
There are a number of types of brain imaging that one could use to measure brain function power or efficiency.

In this study, Richard Haier looks at imaged cortical thickness, and finds a high correlation with "g."

In this video, Professor Haier looks at a dynamic magneto-encephalogram (MEG) of a brain performing a basic cognitive function. The MEG provides incredible time resolution imaging, allowing a more comprehensive correlation of neural functioning with conscious and subconscious cognitive activity.

Here, UCLA researchers used diffusion tensor imaging of the brain to study white matter function, and found high correlations between white matter integrity and standard IQ test scores.

Other types of dynamic imaging might include PET (positronic emission tomography), EEG, and more. There is typically a tradeoff between temporal (time) resolution and spatial resolution with various scanning methods, but clever ways of combining and correlating different types of scans should help to get around those limitations.

In addition to visualizing simple brain activation, cortical thickness, white matter integrity, etc., advanced imaging will also allow researchers to observe genetic variation in brain activity as it occurs. We are still in the early stages of such dynamic genetic probing, but these tools should help us avoid having to sacrifice human subjects in order to observe changes in brain structure and genetic activity post-mortem. ;-) Heh. Just kidding.

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