Brain Scan 'Fingerprints' Can Show How Smart We Are

Scientists say 'connectivity profiles' may predict how well we do on cognitive tasks
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 13, 2015 8:38 AM CDT
Brain Scan 'Fingerprints' Can Show How Smart We Are
A PhD student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh displays images from brain scans.   (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Each person's brain activity, or "connectivity profile," may be as unique as a set of fingerprints, YaleNews reports—and could prove useful in IDing individuals, assessing intelligence, and predicting future success on certain tasks. In a study published Monday in Nature Neuroscience, scientists reviewed fMRI scans for 126 patients in the Human Connectome Project, which examines how different parts of the brain communicate with each other. They then had the subjects take a series of motor, memory, and intelligence tests, including one for abstract reasoning (aka "fluid" intelligence), Wired notes. Scientists found they could pick out a person's scan from others by matching it with a scan from another day, the BBC reports—and the brain profile could foretell how well subjects did on cognitive tasks. "The more certain regions are talking to one another, the better you're able to process information quickly and make inferences," study co-author Emily Finn tells Wired.

So what could brain scans offer, in addition to helping treat neuropsychiatric diseases? "In the future, Wired could put job applicants in an MRI scanner and look at their functional connections and determine if they're going to be good writers," Todd Constable, another study co-author, jokes with the magazine. Other more practical applications, per a University of California, Irvine, researcher: determining an optimal educational environment for kids, seeing if certain people are prone to addiction, or figuring out which prison inmates are violent. But some experts fear future "neurodiscrimination," like insurance companies offering coverage based on brain profiles. And others note that brain scans only freeze one moment in time and that fluid intelligence is just one form of intelligence. But the authors say brain scans shouldn't be the end-all of intelligence assessment anyway. "It could be one more piece of the puzzle," Finn says, per the Connecticut Post. (A hidden virus may make some people dumber.)

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