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How prioritizing enhances your IQ

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Test can predict IQ by measuring brain's ability to ignore useless information

A brief visual test can predict IQ by measuring your brain’s ability to ignore useless information, according to a new study from the University of Rochester released Thursday by the journal, Current Biology.

Researchers of the study found that people with higher IQs were faster at figuring out which direction an object was moving due to their unconscious ability to filter out and get rid of useless data within the image in order to zero in on and focus on whether the object was moving left or right.

Senior author Duje Tadin, an assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, and Michael Melnick, a doctoral candidate in brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, said that results from the study showed individuals whose brains were better at automatically suppressing background motion performed better on standard measures of intelligence.

The results were a surprise however, as Tadin and his co-workers were actually conducting research for another project with 12 people when they found the correlation between IQ and visual processing efficiency.

Because the correlation was so strong, Tadin initially thought the results were a statistical fluke, so his research team ran the study again. This time, they tested 53 people and used a more difficult version of a standard IQ test.

Next, the researchers asked the participants which direction the image was heading, left or right?
Those who had the higher IQs were able to answer much more rapidly than the rest.

“When we open our eyes, a huge amount of information lands there,” Tadin explained. “But only a small part of it is relevant. We don’t have the ability to process everything, so the brain focuses on the most important things, and ignores the less important.”

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The study was called "significant" by René Marois, a Vanderbilt University professor who studies the brain and how it processes information. He has said that our brains may be limited by traffic bottlenecks, similar to what happens with a lot of cars merging onto a freeway.

These bottlenecks in the brain can occur when one region is trying to send signals to another. Therefore, the brain needs to filter out what’s important and discard what isn't important in order to avoid a traffic jam.

“That’s why it’s so hard to multitask,” Marois said. “We can only pay maximum attention to one task, and if you try two tasks, we almost invariably become less efficient.”

Filtering out extraneous data from our brains can make the difference between life and death in some situations, which means developing this skill could be important to our very survival. For example, if your house is on fire, and you are stuck in it, you don't have time to figure out who caused it, nor do you have time to process a plan for putting it out. In that instant, you need to focus on just getting out.

Similarly, animals roaming in the jungle don’t need to pay attention to every tree, bush or rock if they see some larger animal approaching them. They just need to know if that animal is going to kill them, or if it's something they can kill to eat, and the quicker they figure it out, the greater the chance they have of living another day.

So is there a way to exercise your brain to help it process relevant information faster while filter out the minutiae? According to Tadin, there may, but he isn’t certain what that exercise would look like.

“Most so-called IQ enhancing exercises focus on how you process things that matter, not how to better suppress those that don’t,” he said.

Tadin also doesn’t think such exercise can or should be used to test IQ, although he believes it may be a useful adjunct because it is free of the types of cultural biases that critics of IQ tests frequently point out. Moreover, it may also be helpful for studies involving people with a reduced ability to suppress information, such as those suffering from depression, schizophrenia, or dementia in old age.

SOURCE: Current Biology - 20 May 2013 (Vol. 23, Issue 10, pp. 930-935)