Aron Barbey, Decision Neuroscience Lab

Flexibility is at the Heart of Human Intelligence

University of Illinois psychology professor Aron K. Barbey has published a new theory positing that flexibility is at the heart of human intelligence. Barbey’s paper in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences,  advances that the best predictors of human intelligence is how the brain is wired, and how that wiring shifts in response to changing intellectual demands.

“When we say that someone is smart, we understand intuitively what that means,” Barbey said. “Usually, we’re referring to how good they are at making decisions and solving particular types of problems. But recently in neuroscience, there’s been a focus on understanding in biological terms how general intelligence arises.”

By studying the structural and functional characteristics of the entire brain, “its global architecture and the interactions among lower- and higher-level mechanisms,” Barbey and his colleagues developed an hypothesis that the basis for human intelligence is flexibility.

“What my colleagues and I have come to realize is that general intelligence does not originate from a single brain region or network. Emerging neuroscience evidence instead suggests that intelligence reflects the ability to flexibly transition between network states,” Barbey concluded.

Barbey directs the Decision Neuroscience Laboratory at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.