06-Aug-2019 - Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB)

What the brains of people with excellent general knowledge look like

What is the capital city of Tajikistan? When did Einstein create his famous theory of relativity? And when did Goethe die? Some people seem to have an answer to every general knowledge question. Why?

The brains of people with excellent general knowledge are particularly efficiently wired. This was shown by neuroscientists at Ruhr-Universität Bochum and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin using magnetic resonance imaging. “Although we can precisely measure the general knowledge of people and this wealth of knowledge is very important for an individual’s journey through life, we currently know little about the links between general knowledge and the characteristics of the brain,” says Dr. Erhan Genç from the Department of Biopsychology in Bochum.

Brain images and knowledge test

The researchers examined the brains of 324 men and women with a special form of magnetic resonance imaging called diffusion tensor imaging. This makes it possible to reconstruct the pathways of nerve fibres and thus gain an insight into the structural network properties of the brain. By means of  mathematical algorithms, the researchers assigned an individual value to the brain of each participant, which reflected the efficiency of his or her structural fibre network.

The participants also completed a general knowledge test called the Bochum Knowledge Test, which was developed in Bochum by Dr. Rüdiger Hossiep. It is comprised of over 300 questions from various fields of knowledge such as art and architecture or biology and chemistry. The team led by Erhan Genç finally investigated whether the efficiency of structural networking is associated with the amount of general knowledge stored.

The result: People with a very efficient fibre network had more general knowledge than those with less efficient structural networking.

Linking pieces of information

“We assume that individual units of knowledge are dispersed throughout the entire brain in the form of pieces of information,” explains Erhan Genç. “Efficient networking of the brain is essential in order to put together the information stored in various areas of the brain and successfully recall knowledge content.”

An example: To answer the question of which constants occur in Einstein’s theory of relativity, you have to connect the meaning of the term “constant” with knowledge of the theory of relativity. “We assume that more efficient networking of the brain contributes to better integration of pieces of information and thus leads to better results in a general knowledge test,” says the Bochum-based researcher.

Facts, background information, dossiers
  • imaging
More about Ruhr-Universität Bochum
  • News

    Catalyst deposition on fragile chips

    Electrocatalysts can help to obtain chemicals from renewable raw materials or to use alternative energy sources. But testing new catalysts brings challenges. Researchers at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) and the University of Duisburg-Essen have developed a new method of depositing catal ... more

    Observing proteins in their natural environment

    Proteins can be responsible for the fact that the active ingredients of drugs are simply released from the target cells. You can watch them do this now. Certain medications, such as those used to treat cancer, lose their effect because proteins in the membrane of the target cell simply expe ... more

    How oxygen destroys the core of important enzymes

    New findings are expected to help protect the hydrogen-producing enzymes from harmful oxygen – which is interesting for biotechnological applications. Certain enzymes, such as hydrogen-producing hydrogenases, are unstable in the presence of oxygen. Researchers at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RU ... more