Flexibility is at the heart of intelligence.
How the brain is wired along with how this wiring reacts to shifts in intellectual demands is what makes someone intelligent, argues Professor Aron Barbey, author of a recent study.
Intelligence is all about being able to ‘flexibly transition’ between different ‘network states’.
“When we say that someone is smart, we understand intuitively what that means.
Usually, we’re referring to how good they are at making decisions and solving particular types of problems.
But recently in neuroscience, there’s been a focus on understanding in biological terms how general intelligence arises.”
The brain has a variety of different modules — crudely put, memory, vision, language and so on — and each has a specific function.
Professor Barbey said:
“For example, brain regions within the occipital lobe at the back of the brain are known to processes visual information.
To identify an object, we also must classify it.
That doesn’t depend only on vision.
It also requires conceptual knowledge and other aspects of information processing, which are supported by other brain regions.
And as the number of modules increases, the type of information represented in the brain becomes increasingly abstract and general.”
But it is how all these modules work together that really creates human intelligence, Professor Barbey said:
“The prefrontal cortex, a structure at the front of the brain, for example, has expanded dramatically over the course of human evolution.
But really, the entire brain – its global architecture and the interactions among lower- and higher-level mechanisms – is required for general intelligence.”
Professor Barbey said:
“General intelligence requires both the ability to flexibly reach nearby, easy-to-access states – to support crystallized intelligence – but also the ability to adapt and reach difficult-to-access states – to support fluid intelligence.
What my colleagues and I have come to realize is that general intelligence does not originate from a single brain region or network.
Emerging neuroscience evidence instead suggests that intelligence reflects the ability to flexibly transition between network states.”
The study was published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences (Barbey, 2017).