What the brains of people with excellent general knowledge look like

Some people seem to have an answer to every general knowledge question; why?

Cognitive performance changes broadly among people and is very impacted by auxiliary and practical properties of the brain. Past studies focused on fluid intelligence while neglecting its equally famous counterpart crystallized information.

Crystallized intelligence is characterized as the profundity and breadth of knowledge and skills that are valued by one’s way of life. The collection of crystallized insight is guided by information storage capacities and is probably going to be reflected in an individual’s level of general knowledge. In spite of the significant role general knowledge plays for everyday life, its neural foundation largely remains unknown.

A new study by the neuroscientists at Ruhr-Universität Bochum and Humboldt-Universität Zu Berlin has shown that the brains of people with excellent general knowledge are particularly efficiently wired.

Erhan Genç (right) and Onur Güntürkün of the Bochum Biopsychology Unit are interested in the relationships between brain structure and cognitive abilities. © RUB, Kramer
Erhan Genç (right) and Onur Güntürkün of the Bochum Biopsychology Unit are interested in the relationships between brain structure and cognitive abilities. © RUB, Kramer

Scientists examined the brains of 324 men and women with a particular form of magnetic resonance imaging called diffusion tensor imaging. This makes it conceivable to reproduce the pathways of nerve fibers and subsequently gain knowledge into the structural network properties of the brain. By methods for mathematical algorithms, the analysts assigned an individual value to the mind of every participant, which mirrored the proficiency of his or her structural fiber network.

Participants completed a general knowledge test called the Bochum Knowledge Test, which was developed in Bochum by Dr. Rüdiger Hossiep. It is comprised of over 300 questions from various fields of knowledge such as art and architecture or biology and chemistry. The team led by Erhan Genç finally investigated whether the efficiency of structural networking is associated with the amount of general knowledge stored.

The results suggested that people with a very efficient fiber network had more general knowledge than those with less efficient structural networking.

Dr. Erhan Genç from the Department of Biopsychology in Bochum, said, “We assume that individual units of knowledge are dispersed throughout the entire brain in the form of pieces of information. Efficient networking of the brain is essential in order to put together the information stored in various areas of the brain and successfully recall knowledge content.”

The Bochum-based researcher said, “We assume that more efficient networking of the brain contributes to better integration of pieces of information and thus leads to better results in a general knowledge test.”

The team describes the results in the European Journal of Personality on 28 July 2019.

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