Research using technology in new ways to capture data from more than 100,000 people confirms a hypothesis long suspected by cognitive psychologists: the results of a single component of a standardized intelligence test can’t tell you as much as a set of such components taken together.
In the novel study, University of Western Ontario researchers used an online survey whereby anyone, anywhere, could provide data. Researchers asked thousands of respondents to complete 12 cognitive tests tapping memory, reasoning, attention and planning abilities, as well as a survey about their background and lifestyle habits.
“The uptake was astonishing,” said co-author Adrian M. Owen, Ph.D. “We expected a few hundred responses, but thousands and thousands of people took part, including people of all ages, cultures and creeds from every corner of the world.”
Investigators discovered that when a wide range of cognitive abilities are explored, the observed variations in performance can only be explained with at least three distinct components: short-term memory, reasoning and a verbal component.
No one component explained everything. Furthermore, the scientists used the brain scanning technique known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), to show that these differences in cognitive ability map onto distinct circuits in the brain.
With so many respondents, the results also provided a wealth of new information about how factors such as age, gender and the tendency to play computer games influence our brain function.
“Regular brain training didn’t help people’s cognitive performance at all yet aging had a profound negative effect on both memory and reasoning abilities,” says Owen.
Co-author Adam Hampshire, “Intriguingly, people who regularly played computer games did perform significantly better in terms of both reasoning and short-term memory.
“And smokers performed poorly on the short-term memory and the verbal factors, while people who frequently suffer from anxiety performed badly on the short-term memory factor in particular”.
“To ensure the results aren’t biased, we can’t say much about the agenda other than that there are many more fascinating questions about variations in cognitive ability that we want to answer,” explains Hampshire.
Researchers understand that the larger the sample size, the more valid the study findings. Accordingly, investigators are continuing this groundbreaking research via a new version of the tests at http://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/theIQchallenge
The article is published in the journal Neuron.
Source: University of Western Ontario