Think fast? Smarter people actually take longer to solve problems, brain scans show

BERLIN, Germany — Just because someone has a high IQ, doesn’t mean they make decisions any faster than the rest of the population. Researchers in Germany and Spain have made a fascinating discovery about intelligence and decision-making. Contrary to popular belief, individuals with higher IQ scores were only faster when it came to simple tasks, but they took longer to solve difficult problems compared to those with lower IQ scores. The researchers found that brains with reduced synchrony between different brain areas tended to “jump to conclusions” when making decisions.

For this study, the researchers worked with digital data from brain scans of 650 people and combined it with mathematical models based on biological processes to create brain simulations. In addition, the team assessed participants’ cognitive abilities and IQ scores. They discovered that the right balance of neural excitation and inhibition influences decision-making and problem-solving capabilities.

“We can reproduce the activity of individual brains very efficiently,” says Professor Petra Ritter, head of the Brain Simulation Section at the Berlin Institute of Health at Charité (BIH) and at the Department of Neurology and Experimental Neurology of Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, in a media release. “We found out in the process that these in silico brains behave differently from one another – and in the same way as their biological counterparts. Our virtual avatars match the intellectual performance and reaction times of their biological analogues.”

Man's brain
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Interestingly, the “slower” brains, both in humans and in the models, exhibited higher synchrony or coordination among brain regions. This synchronization allowed neural circuits in the frontal lobe to delay decisions, enabling more thorough processing. On the other hand, brains with reduced functional connectivity tended to “jump to conclusions” without waiting for upstream brain regions to complete the necessary processing steps.

In the study, participants were presented with tasks involving identifying logical rules in patterns. As the tasks became more complex, decision-making became more challenging. The simulations revealed a winner-take-all competition among different neural groups involved in decision-making. However, in complex tasks, the evidence supporting a particular decision was often unclear, leading to premature conclusions by the neural groups.

These findings have significant implications for the understanding of decision-making and working memory. Prof. Ritter believes that this simulation technology can contribute to personalized planning of surgical interventions, drug treatments, and therapeutic brain stimulation for patients with neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Parkinson’s. By using computer simulations, physicians can assess which interventions or drugs might be most effective and have the fewest side effects for individual patients.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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