Spring 2017, Vol. 1, No. 2, Pages 192-207
Fluid and flexible minds: Intelligence reflects synchrony in the brain’s intrinsic network architecture
Human intelligence has been conceptualized as a complex system of dissociable cognitive processes, yet studies investigating the neural basis of intelligence have typically emphasized the contributions of discrete brain regions or, more recently, of specific networks of functionally connected regions. Here we take a broader, systems perspective in order to investigate whether intelligence is an emergent property of synchrony within the brain’s intrinsic network architecture. Using a large sample of resting-state fMRI and cognitive data (n = 830), we report that the synchrony of functional interactions within and across distributed brain networks reliably predicts fluid and flexible intellectual functioning. By adopting a whole-brain, systems-level approach, we were able to reliably predict individual differences in human intelligence by characterizing features of the brain’s intrinsic network architecture. These findings hold promise for the eventual development of neural markers to predict changes in intellectual function that are associated with neurodevelopment, normal aging, and brain disease.In our study, we aimed to understand how individual differences in intellectual functioning are reflected in the intrinsic network architecture of the human brain. We applied statistical methods, known as spectral decompositions, in order to identify individual differences in the synchronous patterns of spontaneous brain activity that reliably predict core aspects of human intelligence. The synchrony of brain activity at rest across multiple discrete neural networks demonstrated positive relationships with fluid intelligence. In contrast, global synchrony within the brain’s network architecture reliably, and inversely, predicted mental flexibility, a core facet of intellectual functioning. The multinetwork systems approach described here represents a methodological and conceptual extension of earlier efforts that related differences in intellectual ability to variations in specific brain regions, networks, or their interactions. Our findings suggest that the neural basis of complex, integrative cognitive functions can be most completely understood from the perspective of network neuroscience.