Spektrum (Germany): where does the intelligence

In October 2018 Wenzel Gryus showed something incredible to the millions of viewers: a student from a small German town will Lastret more than fifty times in a row snapped the soccer ball with your head, never dropping and not picking up his hands. But the fact that the viewers of Russian TV show “Amazing people” rewarded him with enthusiastic applause, due not only to the sporting agility of a young man. The fact is that, playing ball, he casually elevated to a fifth degree number 67, having a ten-digit result in just 60 seconds.

Wenzel, who is now 17 years old, has a unique mathematical gift: he multiplies, divides, extracts the roots of a twelve-character numbers with no pen, paper, and other AIDS. At the last world Cup under the oral account he took third place. As he says himself, on the most challenging math problems it takes 50 to 60 minutes, for example, when he needs to dvadtsatiletnej decompose the number into Prime factors. How did he do it? Probably, the main role here plays his short-term memory.

It is clear that the brain of Wenzel slightly higher than thinking on his normally gifted peers. At least in terms of numbers. But why do some people have greater mental abilities than others? This question 150 years ago was occupied by the British natural scientist Francis Galton (Francis Galton). However, he noticed that often differences in intelligence are associated with the origin of man. In his book “Hereditary genius” (Hereditary Genius), he concludes that human intelligence can be inherited.

A cocktail of several ingredients

1. The brains of some people work harder than others. Their owners have more intellectual abilities. But what is the common neurobiological basis is still not clear.

2. Scientists find new genes that contribute to the development of high intelligence. Many of them are located in the pyramidal cells of the cerebral cortex.

3. The longer and more branched cell fibers in the temporal lobes of the brain, the person, in principle, smarter. In other parts of the brain a beneficial effect on the intellect has a low density of neurons.

As it turned out, that his thesis was correct — at least partly. American psychologists Thomas Bouchard (Thomas Bouchard) and Muttu McGee (Matthew McGue) reviewed over 100 published studies of the similarity of minds among members of the same family. Some works were described identical twins separated immediately after birth. Despite this, during the tests of intelligence they showed almost similar results. Twins who grew up together in mental abilities was similar to an even greater extent. Probably the environment has also had an important influence.

Today, scientists believe that intelligence is 50-60 percent inherited. In other words, the difference in IQ between two people a good half due to the structure of their DNA obtained from the parents.

In search of genes of intelligence

However, the search for a specific hereditary materials is still little to what brought. However, sometimes I found some items that at first glance had to do with intelligence. But upon closer inspection, this relationship proved to be false. There is a paradoxical situation: on the one hand, countless studies have proven a high hereditary component of intelligence. On the other hand, no one could tell which genes are specifically responsible for it.

Recently the picture has changed, primarily due to technological progress. The construction plan of every individual is enclosed in its DNA — a kind of giant encyclopedia, containing about 3 billion letters. Unfortunately, it is written in a language we barely know. Although we can read the letters, but the meaning of the texts of this encyclopedia remains hidden from us. Even if scientists managed to sequence the entire DNA of any person they do not know what areas are responsible for his mental capacity.

Intelligence and IQ

The word intelligence comes from the Latin noun intellectus, which can be translated as “perception”, “understanding”, “understanding”, “reason” or “mind.” Psychologists mean by intelligence is General mental ability covering various competences: for example, the ability to solve problems, understand complex ideas, to think abstractly and learn from experience.

Intelligence, as a rule, is not limited to one subject, e.g. mathematics. Someone who is good in one area often highlighted in the other. Clearly limited to one subject talents are rare. Therefore, many scientists believe that there is a General factor of intelligence, called factor G.

The one who is going to study the intelligence, is in need of a method for objective measurement. The first intelligence test developed by French psychologists Alfred Binet (Alfred Binet) and Theodore Simon (Simon Théodore). They used it for the first time in 1904 to assess the intellectual abilities of students. On the basis of the objectives developed for this purpose, they created the so-called “scale of mental development of the Binet — Simon”. They determined the age of the intellectual development of the child. Match the number in the scale of problems the child could solve it.

In 1912 German psychologist William stern (William Stern) proposed a new method in which the age of intellectual development was divided by chronological age, and the resulting value was called the intelligence quotient (IQ). And although the name has remained until now, today, IQ no longer describes the age coefficients. Instead, the IQ gives an idea about the relative level of intelligence of an individual with the level of intelligence of the average person.

People differ, and therefore different sets of DNA. However, individuals with a high IQ must match at least those parts of the DNA that are associated with intelligence. Today scientists proceed from this fundamental thesis. Comparing the DNA of hundreds of thousands of subjects in its millions of parts, scientists can identify genetic regions that contribute to the formation of higher intellectual abilities.

In recent years published a number of such studies. Thanks to these analyses, the picture becomes more clear: specific mental abilities depend not only on hereditary data, but from thousands of different genes. And each of them makes only a tiny contribution to the phenomenon of intelligence, sometimes only a few hundredths of a percent. “It is now believed that two-thirds of all variable of human genes directly or indirectly associated with the development of brain and potentially with intelligence,” emphasizes Lars Penke (Lars Penke), Professor of biological personality psychology from the University Georg August in göttingen.

A mystery

But there’s one big problem: today there are 2 thousands of places (loci) in the DNA structure that are associated with intelligence. But in many cases still not clear what exactly answer these loci. To solve this mystery, the researchers of intelligence to see what the cells are more likely than others to respond to new information. This may indicate that these cells somehow are associated with mental abilities.

But researchers are constantly faced with a certain group of neurons, the so — called pyramidal cells. They grow in the cortex, in the outer shell of the cerebrum and the cerebellum, which is called the cortex. It contains primarily nerve cells, which gives it a distinctive grey color, so we call him “grey matter”.

Perhaps the pyramidal cells play a key role in shaping intelligence. At this point in any case, the results of studies conducted by neuroscientist Natalia Goryunova, a Professor at the Free University of Amsterdam.

SC has recently published a study that attracted widespread attention: she compared the pyramidal cells in subjects with different intellectual abilities. Tissue samples were taken mostly from material obtained at surgery in patients with epilepsy. In severe cases, neurosurgeons try to remove the source of hazardous seizures. They are always removed and part of the healthy brain material. This material and the investigated SC.

She first checked the reactions contained pyramidal cells to electric pulses. Then she cut each sample into thin slices, photographed them under a microscope and collected them again on the computer in three-dimensional image. Thus, for example, set the length of dendrites — branched processes of the cells, with which they catch electrical signals. “We have established a link with an IQ of patients, says Goryunova. — The longer and vetustee was the dendrites, the smarter was the appropriate individual”.

The researcher explained this is very simple: long, branched dendrites can establish more contacts with other cells, i.e. they get more information that can be processed. To this is added another factor: “Thanks to strong branching they can in different branches simultaneously process different information,” — emphasizes SC. Through such parallel processing cells have large computing capabilities. “They work faster and more productive,” concludes Goryunova.

Only part of the truth

No matter how convincing it may seem, this thesis fully proven it can not be considered, as openly recognized researcher itself. The fact that it investigated tissue samples were taken mostly from a very limited area in the temporal lobes. There is the most epileptic seizures, and therefore, as a rule, surgery for epilepsy is produced in this region. “As is the case in other areas of the brain, we still can not say, — says Goryunova. But new, not yet published research results of our group show, for example, that the relationship between the length of dendrites and intelligence in the left half of the brain were more pronounced than in the right.”

To make any General conclusions from the results of the Amsterdam research scientists still can not. Especially since there is evidence of the opposite. They received biopsychologist from Bochum with a Genç, Erhan (Erhan Genç). In 2018, he and his colleagues also explored how different is the structure of the gray matter are very smart and less smart people. However, he came to the conclusion that the strong branching of dendrites rather harms than helps thinking skills.

However, genç did not examine individual pyramidal cells, and placed their subjects in the brain scanner. In principle, MRI’s are not suitable to study subtle structures of fibers — resolution images, as a rule, is insufficient. But the Bochum researchers used a special method that allows you to see the direction of diffusion of the tissue fluid.

Dendrites become barriers to fluid. Analyzing the diffusion, it is possible to determine the direction in which dendrites are located, how they branched out, and how close to each other are located. The result: more intelligent people are the dendrites of the individual nerve cells are not so thick and not prone to disintegrate into thin “wires”. This observation is diametrically opposed to the findings of neuroscientist Natalia Goryunova.

But isn pyramidal cells do not need a variety of information coming from the outside to perform their tasks in the brain? This is consistent with the low degree of branching? Genç also said the communication between cells is important, but, in his opinion, this relationship should have a purpose. “If you want to make the tree give more fruit, cut away the excess branches, he explains. Same is the case with synaptic connections between neurons when we are born, we have a lot of them. But throughout life we thin out and leave only those that are important for us”.

Presumably, due to this we are able to process information more efficiently.

So also does “live calculator” Wenzel Gryus, which while solving the problem of off all around. The processing of background stimuli would be for him at this point is counterproductive.

Indeed, people with a wealth of intelligence have a more focused brain activity than less gifted ones, when they have to solve a complex problem. In addition, their mental body need less energy. These two observations led to the so-called neural efficiency hypothesis of intelligence, according to which what is important is not the intensity of the work of the brain, and efficiency.

Seven nurses the child without an eye

Genc believes that his findings support this theory: “If you are dealing with a huge number of links, where each can contribute to a solution to some problem, it complicates rather than helps it,” he says. According to him, it’s like that before buying the TV to ask for advice even from those friends who in the TV do not understand. So it makes sense to suppress the interfering factors — so says neuroscientist from Bochum. Probably smart people are better at that than other things.

But how does this compare with the results of the Amsterdam group led by Natalia Goryunova? Erhan genç indicates that there might be different techniques of measurements. In contrast to the Dutch researcher, he did not consider individual cells under the microscope and measured the movement of the water molecules in tissues. He points to the fact that the degree of branching of pyramidal cells in different sectors of the brain can be different. “We are dealing with mosaics, which are still missing a part.”

More similar research results in other point: the thickness of the layer of gray matter is critical for intellectual abilities — presumably because in the voluminous the cerebral cortex contains more neurons, that is, it has a large “capacity computing”. To date, this linkage is considered proven, and Natalia Goryunova once again confirmed it in their work. “Size matters”, is set 180 years ago, the German anatomist Friedrich Since (Friedrich Tiedemann). “Between brain size and energy of intellectual abilities undoubtedly there is a connection”, — he wrote in 1837. To measure the volume of the brain, he filled the skull of dead people with dry millet, but this relationship is confirmed by modern methods of measurement using brain scans. According to various estimates, from 6 to 9% of the variation in IQ is associated with differences in brain size. And the thickness of the cortex, apparently, is crucial.

However, there is a lot of mystery. This equally applies to men and women because both sexes have small brain correspond to smaller mental capacity. On the other hand, the brain of women is on average 150 g less than those of men, but in the IQ tests they show the same results as men.

“At the same time, the structure of the brain in men and women vary, explains Lars Penke of the University of göttingen. — Men have more gray matter, that is, the cortex of their brain thicker, and women have more white matter”. But it is vitally important for our ability to solve problems. While at first glance it plays such a prominent role, as the gray matter. White matter consists mainly of long nerve fibers. They can transmit electrical impulses over long distances, sometimes ten inches or more. This is possible because they are perfectly isolated from their environment by a layer of rich fat substances — myelin. The myelin gives the white color fibers. It prevents the loss of voltage due to a short circuit and, additionally, accelerates the transfer of information.

Gaps “wires” in the brain

If pyramidal cells can be considered as the processors of the brain, the white matter is like a computer bus that, thanks to him being at large distances from each other think tanks can communicate and cooperate in solving problems. Despite this, the white matter has long been underestimated by researchers of intelligence.

What is now this attitude changed — merit including Lars Penke. A few years ago, he found that people with low intelligence white substance is in the worst condition. In their brain separate lines of communication are often chaotic, not neat and parallel to each other, the myelin sheath is not formed optimally, and from time to time there are even “wire breaks”. “If such accidents becomes more, it leads to slower processing of information and ultimately to ensure that the individual is when the tests on the intelligence shows worse results than others” — says the personality psychologist the foam. Presumably about 10% of differences in IQ due to the state of the white matter.

But back to the differences between the sexes: as it says in the foam, according to some studies, women cope with intellectual tasks as successfully as men, but they use sometimes other areas of the brain. The reasons one can only guess. Partly, these deviations can be explained by the difference in the structure of white matter — the communication channel between the various centers of the brain. “Anyway, based on these data, we clearly see that there is not one single opportunity to use intelligence — emphasizes the researcher from Bochum. — Different combinations of factors can lead to the same level of intelligence”.

Thus, the “smart head” is made of many components, and their ratio may vary. Important and pyramidal cells as efficient processors, and the white matter as a system of quick communication and well-functioning working memory. Added to this is the optimal cerebral circulation, strong immunity, active energy metabolism and so on. The more science learns about the phenomenon of intelligence, the clearer it becomes that it cannot be associated with only one component, and even with one specific part of the brain.

But if everything works as it should, the human brain is able to do amazing things. This is illustrated by the South Korean nuclear physicist Kim Ung Yong, with an IQ of 210 units are considered the most intelligent man on Earth. In seven years he decided on a Japanese TV show challenging integral equation. At the age of eight he was invited to NASA in the USA, where he worked for ten years.

However, Kim cautions that IQ gave too much importance. In his published in 2010 an article in the newspaper Korea Herald, he wrote that men are not omnipotent. As world record athletes, high IQ is just one of the manifestations of human talent. “If there is a wide range of talents, mine is only a part of them.”