Study finds brain speed linked to intelligence

Los Angeles (CA) – Are human brains basically organic computers? If they are, then a recent publication by Dr. Paul Thompson, professor of neurology at UCLA’s School of Medicine may make sense. The study finds that not only are smart people smarter, but they actually think faster.

This colorful brain image is like a map of mental speed. The bright spaghetti structures represent the pathways connecting different brain cells. Image courtesy of David Shattuck/Arthur Toga/Paul Thompson/UCLA.

Using high resolution MRI scans, Dr. Thompson was able to identify the internal network inside people’s brains, and map their speed. The tests revealed how white matter pathways carry information from one center of the brain to another, and how these conveyances actually signal faster in smarter people.

To keep the test as unbiased as possible, the researchers took 92 people (46 sets of twins — some identical and some fraternal) through a normal set of intelligence exams. After that they began examining their brains and comparing genetic markers.

The study revealed a very clear link between intelligence and brain speed. Said Dr. Thompson, “These images really give you a picture of the mental speed of the brain. When you say someone is quick-thinking, it’s genuinely true. The impulses are going faster and they are just more efficient at processing information, and then making a decision based on it.”

The study also suggests a person’s brain speed is an inherited trait. However, they found people are not stuck with their at-birth brain speed. Just as how running or lifting weights or slouching on the couch can affect physical fitness, flexing our mental skills (or not) can speed up or slow down the rate at which our brains operate internally. Dr Thompson said, “The wires between the brain cells, the connections, are the things that you can modify throughout life. They change and they improve through your 40s and 50s and 60s.”

The study reveals that just as in computer networks where the faster various components can communicate with one another the faster the system is, in the case of humans in this study, the more quick-minded a person is the faster their white matter pathways are communicating with other centers in the brain, and the more intelligent they are overall.

How many GHz is your brain?

See the article on NPR.