A strong interactive link between sensory discriminations and intelligence

Curr Biol. 2013 Jun 3;23(11):1013-7. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.04.053. Epub 2013 May 23.


Early psychologists, including Galton, Cattell, and Spearman, proposed that intelligence and simple sensory discriminations are constrained by common neural processes, predicting a close link between them. However, strong supporting evidence for this hypothesis remains elusive. Although people with higher intelligence quotients (IQs) are quicker at processing sensory stimuli, these broadly replicated findings explain a relatively modest proportion of variance in IQ. Processing speed alone is, arguably, a poor match for the information processing demands on the neural system. Our brains operate on overwhelming amounts of information, and thus their efficiency is fundamentally constrained by an ability to suppress irrelevant information. Here, we show that individual variability in a simple visual discrimination task that reflects both processing speed and perceptual suppression strongly correlates with IQ. High-IQ individuals, although quick at perceiving small moving objects, exhibit disproportionately large impairments in perceiving motion as stimulus size increases. These findings link intelligence with low-level sensory suppression of large moving patterns--background-like stimuli that are ecologically less relevant. We conjecture that the ability to suppress irrelevant and rapidly process relevant information fundamentally constrains both sensory discriminations and intelligence, providing an information-processing basis for the observed link.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Intelligence*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motion Perception*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Young Adult