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Scientists can now predict how intelligent you are with a brain scan - but could the technology be misused?

If a brain scan could be used to check your intelligence, could that information one day be used against you?

Doug Bolton
Wednesday 14 October 2015 12:26 BST
Studying the connections of the brain can help scientists predict intelligence
Studying the connections of the brain can help scientists predict intelligence

A team of American neuroscientists have discovered that your intelligence can be predicted fairly accurately with an fMRI brain scan.

The study, published in high-profile journal Nature Neuroscience found that individuals' "fluid intelligence" can be found out through the analysis of connections within the brain.

As it says in the report, "functional connectivity profiles can be used to preduct the fundamental cognitive trait of fluid intelligence in subjects."

Not only that, but they discovered that everyone's patterns of connections in the brain are unique - they act like a fingerprint, that can be used to identify a person even if no other information is available.

It's a fascinating discovery, and one that furthers our understanding of how brain structure is linked to intelligence - but the technology to predict these mental traits through brain scans could have some very dystopian uses as it advances.

Todd Constable, one of the authors of the study, told WIRED magazine that one day in the future, employers could scan job applicants' brains to see whether they would be suited for the position.

And Richard Haier, an intelligence researcher at the University of California, Irvine, said that schools could scan students' brains to see what kind of education would suit them, or prisons could scan inmates to see whether they were prone to violence or addiction.

Measuring something as abstract as intelligence and personality through brain scanning is naturally a difficult job, and the technology is in its very early days - but the potential for Minority Report-esque situations developing as the technology improves is posing a problem for medical ethicists, some of whom see situations where discrimination based on scan results could occur.

However, this research is still more exciting than it is worrying. It's linked to the Human Connectome Project, an extensive research project aimed at understanding the complex network of pathways in the human brain.

The researchers analysed fMRI brain scans of 126 test subjects in the Human Connectome Project and compared their connectome patterns to how well they scored in a range of motor skill, memory and IQ-style tests to find a correlation.

A link between brain structure and intelligence has long been a topic of research for science. Albert Einstein's brain was removed just a few hours after he died, and the organ has been the subject of numerous studies over the years, many of which have tried to find any irregularities that could have contributed to his genius.

The kind of research conducted in this study could one day have major medical benefits, or lead to discrimination. For the foreseeable future however, it's another step in the journey of discovery into how our brains work.

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