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Study finds brain markers of numeric, verbal and spatial reasoning abilities

A new study begins to clarify how brain structure and chemistry give rise to specific aspects of “fluid intelligence,” the ability to adapt to new situations and solve problems one has never encountered before.

The study, reported in the journal NeuroImage, links higher concentrations of a marker of energy production in the brain with an improved ability to solve verbal and spatial problems. It also finds an association between brain size and number-related problem-solving.

The analysis involved 211 research subjects, making it the largest study to date linking brain chemistry and intelligence in living humans, said University of Illinois postdoctoral researcher Erick Paul, who led the work with research scientist Ryan Larsen and Illinois neuroscience professor Aron Barbey. The work was conducted in the Decision Neuroscience Laboratory at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. More studies will be needed to confirm and extend the findings, the researchers said.

Intelligence tests
The study tested participants’ performance on a number of intelligence tests, with questions, similar to this one, testing subjects’ spatial reasoning
Graphic by Ryan Larsen and Julie McMahon