Scientists can predict aptitude for training by imaging brain: study

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CHICAGO, Dec. 4 (Xinhua) -- People with specific brain attributes are more likely than others to benefit from targeted cognitive interventions designed to enhance fluid intelligence, according to a study posted Wednesday on the website of the University of Illinois (UI).

The study included 424 people, all of whom scored within the normal range on tests of intelligence. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three intervention groups or an active control group. One intervention involved aerobic exercise; another combined exercise and cognitive training; and a third consisted of mindfulness training, exercise and cognitive training. People in the active control group engaged in visual search tasks over the course of the 16-week study.

At the beginning and end of the study, the scientists tested participants' fluid intelligence, the ability to solve unfamiliar tests of logic and spatial reasoning. A subset of randomly selected participants also underwent MRI brain imaging.

The researchers used scientifically validated methods to determine the relative volumes of several brain structures that previous studies have implicated in fluid intelligence.

The analyses revealed that some individuals in each intervention group did better than others on tests of fluid intelligence at the beginning and end of the intervention and benefited from the training more than others.

This group of 71 individuals also shared specific brain attributes that distinguished them from the other participants.

The size of several brain structures, some of which are known to be closely associated with fluid intelligence, was larger in these participants than for everyone else in the study, with the exception of two regions that were smaller: the middle frontal insula and parahippocampal cortex.

The findings address an ongoing problem in cognitive intervention studies, said UI psychology professor Aron Barbey. "Historically, research in the psychological and brain sciences has sought to develop interventions to enhance cognitive performance and to promote brain health. But these efforts have largely been unsuccessful."

This failure might be the result of scientists' one-size-fits-all approach, according to Barbey.

"We each have unique characteristics that shape our cognitive abilities and influence whether we will benefit from specific forms of training," Barbey said.

The researchers focused on brain regions that are known to be important for fluid intelligence. But they were surprised that two structures in the brain -- the parahippocampal cortex and the caudate nucleus -- were so strongly linked to improvement on tests of fluid intelligence.

"We found evidence that these regions, in particular, distinguished people who had the highest response following our intervention from the other participants, are responsible for visual-spatial abilities and the ability to use memory in the process of reasoning," said Wayne State University psychology professor Ana Daugherty, who led the research with Barbey.

The findings suggest these abilities may be more closely related to fluid intelligence than previously thought, Daugherty said.

The study, the first to link the size of specific brain structures to a person's response to interventions, was published in the journal Trends in Neuroscience and Education. Enditem

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