WTF Fun Fact 13400 – Brain Processing Speed and Intelligence

Scientists have discovered something interesting about brain processing speed and intelligence. It turns out our decision-making abilities are not necessarily linked to intelligence.

A study by researchers from BIH and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin found that individuals who performed better on intelligence tests were faster at solving simple problems but required more time for difficult tasks compared to those with lower scores.

How is brain processing speed related to intelligence?

In the popular imagination, thinking fast is usually associated with intelligence. There are studies that support this idea, but they might not have been considering a wide enough range of measures.

Personalized brain simulations revealed that brains with reduced synchronization between different regions tended to make hasty decisions. Meanwhile, higher-scoring participants took longer to solve complex tasks and made fewer mistakes. The findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, shed light on the intricate workings of the human brain.

How did they perform the research?

Led by Professor Dr. Petra Ritter, director of the brain simulation section at the Berlin Institute of Health and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the researchers employed computer simulations to understand decision-making processes and their variations among individuals. They used digital data from brain examinations, such as magnetic resonance imaging, and mathematical models based on theoretical knowledge of biological processes, to develop “personalized brain models” that mirrored individual participants’ brain activity.

For the study, the researchers collaborated with the Human Connectome Project, which collects data on nerve connections in the human brain. The project provided data from 650 participants who had undergone cognitive tests and obtained IQ scores.

The results of brain processing speed research

The scientists discovered that the brains in both the simulations and real individuals exhibited different behaviors based on their levels of synchronization. Slower brains exhibited higher functional connectivity. This allowed neural circuits in the frontal lobe to delay decisions longer than in less coordinated brains. As a result of the temporal coordination, brains were able to gather more information before reaching a conclusion.

The study also revealed that reduced functional connectivity caused some brains to jump to hasty decisions instead of waiting for upstream brain regions to complete the necessary processing steps. The synchronization of brain regions, forming functional networks, influenced working memory and the ability to hold off on decisions for a longer time. Complex problems required holding information in working memory while searching for alternative solutions, leading to better results.

The research provides valuable insights into the balance between excitation and inhibition in the brain’s decision-making processes and its impact on working memory.

The implications

These findings have implications beyond understanding human intelligence. The improved simulation technology used in the study can potentially aid in personalized treatment planning for patients with neurodegenerative diseases like dementia or Parkinson’s. Computer simulations could help doctors estimate the most suitable interventions, medications, or brain stimulation techniques for individual patients, taking into account the likely efficacy and side effects of each approach.

By uncovering the complexities of brain function and decision-making, this research contributes to our knowledge of the human mind and may open new avenues for personalized medicine and treatment strategies in the future.

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Intelligent brains take longer to solve difficult problems” — Berlin Institute of Health

WTF Fun Fact 13008 – Financial Stress Lowers IQ

Fun Fact: “A Harvard study found that our IQs can drop by 13 points when we are under financial stress. This is in part due to the amount of brain power we use to think about any financial burdens we carry, causing distraction.”
Are you surprised to hear that financial stress lowers IQ?


According to Canada’s CBC News (cited below), “People struggling to pay their bills tend to temporarily lose the equivalent of 13 IQ points, scientists found when they gave intelligence tests to shoppers at a New Jersey mall and farmers in India. The idea is that the financial stress of trying to make ends meet monopolizes thinking, making other calculations slower and more difficult, sort of like the effects of going without sleep for a night.”

Financial stress and IQ

We know IQ tests aren’t reliable indicators of innate intelligence, but they can be used to measure changes in a person’s cognitive capacity under different conditions. In other words, we don’t have to compare a person’s scores to anyone else’s, we can compare their specific scores without making judgments about their overall intelligence.

CBC described the study:

“The scientists looked at the effects of finances on the brain both in the lab and in the field. In controlled lab-like conditions, they had about 400 shoppers at Quaker Bridge Mall in central New Jersey consider certain financial scenarios and tested their brain power. Then they looked at real life in the fields of India, where farmers only get paid once a year. Before the harvest, they take out loans and pawn goods. After they sell their harvest, they are flush with cash.

[Harvard researcher Sendhil] Mullainathan and colleagues tested the same 464 farmers before and after the harvest and their IQ scores improved by 25 per cent when their wallets fattened.”

What the study doesn’t mean

The study does not mean that rich people are smarter than people who are having temporary or long-term financial difficulties. It only means they have more cognitive resources to “spend.” They can think more clearly and concentrate better on other tasks since they’re not worried about money.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Financial stress can induce drop in IQ” — CBC News