Posted on July 3, 2018

New Algorithm Uses Brain Scans to Tell How Smart You Are

Ana Sandoiu, Medical News Today, July 2, 2018

Forget about controversial, old-fashioned IQ tests as a measure of intelligence. A new machine-learning algorithm, which was developed by scientists at Caltech, can predict a person’s intellectual ability with unprecedented accuracy.

Scientists led by Ralph Adolphs — a professor of psychology, neuroscience, and biology from the Caltech Brain Imaging Center in Pasadena, CA — developed a machine-learning tool that can predict how intelligent a person is based on their brain activity patterns.

Specifically, the new algorithm relies on data culled by a functional MRI (fMRI) scanner.

Also, the algorithm only needs information on the brain’s resting state, so the people being scanned do not need to solve any logical puzzles or math problems in order to have their mental abilities tested.

The scientists tested their newly developed algorithm on almost 900 participants, and the findings will soon be published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

How to predict intelligence from brain scans

Prof. Adolphs and team used data on 884 study participants from the Human Connectome Project, a research project aiming to become the most extensive database on the human brain and its fine neural connections.

These data included the brain scans and intelligence scores of the participants. To strengthen the validity of these intelligence scores, the scientists used 10 different cognitive exercises that the participants had engaged in, rather than just one IQ test.

The scientists fed the data into the algorithm, which was then able to predict intelligence scores with a statistically significant accuracy rate.

First author Julien Dubois, a postdoctoral fellow at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA, explains the findings, saying, “The information that we derive from the brain measurements can be used to account for about 20 percent of the variance in intelligence we observed in our subjects.”


Algorithm has yet to predict personality


The researchers chose to study intelligence first because it is one of the most stable psychological features. Over a period of weeks, months, or even years, studies have found that intelligence does not change much, explain the researchers.

But by the same token, the algorithm should have predicted personality traits with the same degree of accuracy, because personality also remains mostly unchanged over long periods of time.

A second study carried out by the same team, however, found that predicting personality is a much more difficult feat.