Some people are smarter than others. Even in a multicultural world where no one is better and everyone is equally ordinary, we secretly still know that some people are smarter (politically correct disclaimer - others are just differently intelligent) than other people - but why that is has been a target of neuroscience for as long as it has existed as a discipline.
In a new article in Current Directions in Psychological Science, Eduardo Mercado III from the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, describes how certain aspects of brain structure and function help determine how easily we learn new things, and how learning capacity contributes to individual differences in intelligence.
Cognitive plasticity is the capacity to learn and improve cognitive skills such as solving problems and remembering events. Mercado argues that the structural basis of cognitive plasticity is the cortical module. Cortical modules are vertical columns of interconnected neuronal cells. Across different areas of the cerebral cortex, these columns vary in the number and diversity of neurons they contain. Identifying how cortical modules help us learn cognitive skills may help explain why variations in this capacity occur — that is, why people learn skills at different rates and why our ability to learn new skills changes as we age.
Studies examining a number of different species have shown that, on average, a larger cortex predicts greater intellectual capacity. The source of this correlation is unclear, but Mercado believes that a "more expansive cortex provides more space within which a larger quantity and greater diversity of cortical modules can be distributed."
In other words, Mercado notes that when it comes to intellectual potential, it is not the absolute or even relative size that is important, but how many cortical modules (with various types of neurons) are available. These features of cortical organization and function determine how effectively our brain distinguishes events. This ability to differentiate events may be what enables us to learn cognitive skills.
One implication of this proposal is that experience can be as important as genetics in determining intellectual capacity. Specifically, structural changes of cortical modules generated by development and learning experiences may also contribute to individual differences in intelligence. As these networks of neurons develop over time, their diversity increases, leading to further increases in cognitive plasticity.
This research has important implications for improving educational techniques and can potentially lead to new methods for rehabilitating patients suffering from brain damage. In addition, understanding how cortical modules function may lead to new ways of increasing intelligence.
However, Mercado cautions that "new technologies for increasing cognitive plasticity have ethical implications far beyond those raised by doping in sports." He concludes, "The phrase 'changing your mind' may soon take on a whole new meaning."
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- Gravitational Waves? Watch the LIGO press conference at 10:30 Eastern.
- LIGO, Gravitational Waves, And Laser Interferometry
- Giddings: The 750 GeV Diphoton Resonance Is A Graviton
- The Greenhouse Effect Fallacy
- Internet Searches Reflect Increase In E-Cigarette Popularity
- New Government Guidelines Won't Impact Alcohol Drinking
- Four Different Ways Couples Show They Care
- "A common misconception. Just because a solution is a vaccum solution that does not mean that the..."
- "Gravity waves are a vacuum solution to Einstein's equations, as are black holes. So unlike what..."
- "But I do not wish to convince you, dear reader: You already have........ dreaming is a beautiful..."
- "For more information and an example of someone actually using Signals and Systems theories for..."
- "Do current measurements rule out dipole gravitational radiation? Weak linearized gravity mathematically..."
- Cotton Candy Cure for Future of Organ Transplants
- Walgreens ‘Selling to Heroin Users’? Yes, to Save Their Lives
- Age-Specific Dementia Rates Falling, While New Cases Rise
- Resistance to AIDS Meds in Africa Threatens 35 Years of Progress
- Science Acceptance: The Urban-Rural Divide
- Frying Foods in Olive Oil May Provide Health Benefits
- Asthma linked to an increased time to pregnancy
- New study confirms different generics have equal efficacy when treating epilepsy
- JAMA Oncology: An expert opinion on how to address the skyrocketing prices of cancer drugs
- LIGO, including the MSU scientists, announced a record of gravitational waves
- Renovating spaces and preserving places with lasers