December 25, 2005
Intelligence Correlates With Brain Size

These results are consistent with lots of other studies which found a positive correlation between brain size and intelligence. Bigger is better.

Brain size matters for intellectual ability and bigger is better, McMaster University researchers have found.

The study, led by neuroscientist Sandra Witelson, a professor in the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, and published in the December issue of the journal Brain, has provided some of the clearest evidence on the underlying basis of differences in intelligence.

The study involved testing of intelligence in 100 neurologically normal, terminally ill volunteers, who agreed that their brains be measured after death.

It found bigger is better, but there are differences between women and men.

In women, verbal intelligence was clearly correlated with brain size, accounting for 36 percent of the verbal IQ score. In men, this was true for right-handers only, indicating that brain asymmetry is a factor in men.

Spatial intelligence was also correlated with brain size in women, but less strongly. In men, spatial ability was not related to overall brain size. These results suggest that women may use verbal strategies in spatial thinking, but that in men, verbal and spatial thinking are more distinct.

How hard is it to measure gray versus white matter volumes in dead brains? My guess from other reading is that spatial reasoning abilities will vary more as a function of gray matter volume and perhaps more for gray matter in some areas of the brain than other areas.

It may be that the size or structure of the localized brain regions which underlie spatial skills in men is related to spatial intelligence, as was shown in previous research in Witelson's lab on the brain of Albert Einstein.

In a further sex difference, brain size decreased with age in men over the age span of 25 to 80 years, but age hardly affected brain size in women. It is not known what protective factors, which could be genetic, hormonal or environmental, operate in women.

It remains to be determined what the contribution of nature and nurture are to this cerebral size relationship with intelligence, Witelson said. She added that the results point to the need for responsibility in considering the likely future use of magnetic imaging (or MRIs) of brain structure as a measure of ability in student and workforce settings.

"We're going to need to be careful if, in the future, we use MRI brain scans as a measure of ability in any selection process," she said.

That brain size should correlate with intelligence strikes me as unsurprising on a number of grounds. The brain burns a disproportionate amount of fuel for its size. The brain is expensive for the body. Why should it be bigger unless being bigger provides some Darwinian fitness benefit? For larger brains to offer no benefit the people with smaller brains would need to have mutations that allow them to process just as much information but in a smaller space. But then why wouldn't such mutations sweep through a population?

I'm expecting we'll see the development of far more accurate ways to measure intelligence using MRI and other physical measures.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 December 25 10:41 PM  Brain Intelligence

PacRim Jim said at December 26, 2005 9:24 AM:

So the world is run by people who can't find hats?

Manners said at December 26, 2005 5:01 PM:

Sherlock Homes was right. He might be the first one to know "The bigger The better"

Invisible Scientist said at December 26, 2005 9:41 PM:

It is important to know what kind of intelligence we are trying to measure. There is a big difference between intelligence and cleverness. Verbal intelligence also has different flavors. Many creative writers do not have a wide vocabulary, but at the same time they write very well. In addition to brain size, the way the small number of neurons have been wired, also matters. And I wonder if there is a study that correlates the relative brain size, i.e. the size of the individual's brain divided by the size of the body.

The Nougat said at December 27, 2005 7:43 PM:

Like duh, what's been increasing throughout human evolution?

There are exceptions but given similar functioning/genes/wiring greater size equals more to work with.

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