Smart people generally have harder lives

Why are some people smarter than others?

“At the same time, the brain structure of men and women is different,” explains Lars Penke from the University of Göttingen: “Men have more gray brain tissue, i.e. a somewhat thicker cortex, whereas women have more white brain matter.” And that too is evident for our ability to solve problems to solve, extremely important. At first glance, it plays a far less spectacular role than the gray matter. Most of the white matter consists of long nerve fibers. They can carry electrical signals over long distances, sometimes ten centimeters or more. In order for them to do this, they are excellently isolated from their surroundings by a fatty layer, the myelin. This myelin sheath is also responsible for the white coloring of the tissue. It prevents voltage losses due to short circuits and also accelerates the forwarding of information.

Broken cables in the brain

If the pyramidal cells are the brain's processors, the white matter represents the data bus: thanks to it, distant brain centers can communicate with each other and work together to solve a problem. Nevertheless, it was a little neglected by intelligence research for a long time.

It is also thanks to Lars Penke that this has changed in the meantime. As he showed a few years ago, the white matter is in a worse state in less intelligent people. With them, the individual connections are often jumbled up instead of neatly parallel, the myelin layer is not optimally built up, and every now and then cable breaks can even occur. "If errors like this pile up, this leads to slower information processing and ultimately to the fact that those affected do worse in cognitive performance tests," explains the personality psychologist. About ten percent of the IQ variations are probably due to the white matter.

But back again to the difference between the sexes: According to studies, women can cope with mental tasks just as well as men, but sometimes use different brain areas to do so, says Penke. One can only speculate about the cause. At least in part, this deviation could be due to the different structure of the white matter - the communication channel between the different brain centers. "In any case, we can see very clearly from this finding that there is not just one way of realizing intelligence," emphasizes the Göttingen researcher. "Instead, different combinations of factors can lead to the same level of intelligence."

A clever mind has many ingredients, although the mixing ratio can vary: efficient processors - the pyramidal cells of the gray matter - a fast piping system - the white matter - a well-functioning working memory. In addition, there is an optimal cerebral blood flow, a powerful immune system, an efficient energy metabolism and so on. The more science tries to grasp the phenomenon of intelligence, the clearer it becomes that it cannot be tied to one component - by the way, not even to a specific area of ​​the brain.

But if everything fits, then the human brain is capable of astonishing achievements. This is shown by the example of the South Korean nuclear physicist Kim Ung-yong, who is said to be one of the most intelligent people on earth. At the age of seven he was already solving complicated integral equations on a Japanese TV show. At the age of eight he was invited by NASA to the USA, where he worked for ten years.

However, Kim also repeatedly warns against attaching too great importance to the IQ. For example, in an article published in the Korea Herald in 2010, he said that highly intelligent people are not omnipotent. Like the world records of athletes, a high IQ is just an expression of human talent. "If there is a wide range of talents, mine is only part of it."