Until now, the IQ was the most common and widespread system to assess the intelligence of a person. This series of tests have divided the scientific community among those who thought that the human brain is too complex to measure intelligence as a value and who consider that this system is useful for specific cases such as the prediction of academic performance. A new study could change this and provide us with a more reliable system.
The team of Caltech researchers, the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the University of Salerno has developed a new device capable of 'measuring' the intelligence of a person by viewing the images of a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of his brain activity at rest. Based on changes in blood flow in certain areas of the brain, it is possible to deduce patterns of brain activity without having to perform any kind of mathematical problem, language test or riddle.
"People can lie on the scanner doing nothing while we use brain activity pattern data to predict their intelligence," says Ralph Adolphs, PhD in psychology, neuroscience and biology and study leader. To test their automatic learning algorithm, we used the information collected in the Human Connectome Project (HCP), which seeks to improve the understanding of connections in the human brain. Adolphs and his team collected the brain scans and IQ scores of 900 individuals who had participated in the HCP.
The results of the investigation
After processing the data, the team's algorithm was able to predict the intelligence of a statistically significant number of the 900 subjects chosen. Despite the first positive results, Julien Dubois, participant in the research, points out that the scanner performs 'a rough and noisy measurement of what really happens in the brain and a lot of useful information is discarded'. According to Dubois, the information collected only allows us to measure 20% of the variation in the intelligence of the subjects, so that we are still far from reaching the results of other systems such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale.
The study is part of an attempt to design a diagnostic machine that can provide much information from a person's mind through a brain scan. Adolphs and his colleagues say that they would like to see the day when an MRI can be used to diagnose certain conditions such as autism, schizophrenia or anxiety as they are normally used to find tumors, aneurysms or kidney problems.
Intelligence was chosen as one of the first test fields for technology because it is very stable over time. The IQ of a person does not usually vary much in periods of weeks, months or years. Researchers have also conducted a parallel study using the same method and approach but with the intention of predicting the personality of a subject through an MRI. This has been even harder to achieve than predicting intelligence.
The team of Adolphs and Dubois continues to work together with researchers from other fields to achieve their objectives. "Functional magnetic resonance imaging has not fulfilled its promise as a diagnostic tool, but we and many others are working to change that," says Dubois. "The possibility that large databases are used by scientists around the world is making it possible."