How neuroscience can inform the study of individual differences in cognitive abilities

Rev Neurosci. 2017 May 24;28(4):343-362. doi: 10.1515/revneuro-2016-0073.


Theories of human mental abilities should be consistent with what is known in neuroscience. Currently, tests of human mental abilities are modeled by cognitive constructs such as attention, working memory, and speed of information processing. These constructs are in turn related to a single general ability. However, brains are very complex systems and whether most of the variability between the operations of different brains can be ascribed to a single factor is questionable. Research in neuroscience suggests that psychological processes such as perception, attention, decision, and executive control are emergent properties of interacting distributed networks. The modules that make up these networks use similar computational processes that involve multiple forms of neural plasticity, each having different time constants. Accordingly, these networks might best be characterized in terms of the information they process rather than in terms of abstract psychological processes such as working memory and executive control.

Keywords: attention; intelligence; mental abilities; networks; speed of information processing; working memory.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology
  • Cognition*
  • Humans
  • Intelligence
  • Memory
  • Models, Neurological*