Mapping the Brain’s Intelligence

Traumatic brain injury patients lend their brains to a new study that shows how intelligence works

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The brain’s complexity is understood just a little bit better now. Apparently intelligence has to do with several specific parts of the brain working together to paint the big picture.

In a recent study concerned with brain mapping, researchers succeeded in pinpointing which parts of the brain work together to generate intelligence.

The next step will be studying the genetic, environmental and nutritional aspects that may affect the development of intelligence.

"Ask your doctor about overall mental coordination exercises."

Aron Barbey Ph.D., neuroscience professor at the University of Illinois, led a study that mapped the architecture of the brain structures that come together to form the basis of intelligence by mapping the brains of patients who had suffered specific penetrating traumatic brain injuries.

Barbey’s team looked at 182 Vietnam veterans with the kinds of brain injuries that penetrated only one area of the brain. Barbey said that this particular focus group would supply the best data. Brain injuries from causes like a stroke can affect multiple areas of the brain, whereas one specific area of trauma will provide an isolated affected brain area.

“It’s a significant challenge to find patients (for researchers) who have brain damage, and even further, it’s very hard to find patients who have focal brain damage,” said Barbey.

The goal is to make a map of the mind’s intelligence in both the broad sense of general intelligence and specific functions like working memory and verbal understanding.

Barbey said, “By studying how damage to particular brain regions produces specific forms of cognitive impairment we can map the architecture of the mind, identifying brain structures that are critically important for specific intellectual abilities.”

Each of the 182 cases had to be very carefully studied, starting with a CT scan so that they could group together patients with similarly damaged areas. They would then do a series of cognitive tests and compare the results of the test within the groups that appeared to have the same areas of their brains damaged.

They discovered that general intelligence depends on the connections between several brain regions. Other functions that overlap into areas that are important for general intelligence have to do with self-control, planning and problem solving. It’s not one area or the entire brain that controls intelligence, but rather the coordination of several specific areas of the brain.

Barbey’s team discovered that intelligence depends on how well the brain can pull together and process information from verbal, visual, spatial and overall understanding of the big picture. These findings may provide the basis for future studies on how nutrition, genetics, the environment effect the brain’s intellectual development.

This study was published in Brain: A Journal of Neurology, March 2012. Funding was provided by the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health, no conflicts of interest were found.

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Review Date: 
April 12, 2012
Last Updated:
April 12, 2012