General Knowledge Level Is Associated With Structural Brain Network Connectivity

An individual’s level of general knowledge is associated with structural brain network connectivity, neuroscientists at Ruhr-Universität Bochum and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin have shown.

“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.

Structural Fiber Networks

The researchers examined the brains of 324 men and women with a form of magnetic resonance imaging called diffusion tensor imaging. This makes it possible to reconstruct the pathways of nerve fibers and thus gain 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 fiber network.

The participants also completed a general knowledge test called the Bochum Knowledge Test, which was developed in Bochum by Dr. Rüdiger Hossiep. It consists of over 300 questions from various fields of knowledge such as art, architecture, biology and chemistry.

The team led by Erhan Genç investigated whether the efficiency of structural networking is associated with the amount of general knowledge stored.

The result?

People with a very efficient fiber network had more general knowledge than those with less efficient structural networking.

Information Storage Capacities

What constitutes a more efficient structural brain network? Imagine a well-sorted and organized library card catalog compared to a bunch of post-it notes scattered randomly around your house.

“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.

Genç, E., Fraenz, C., Schlüter, C., Friedrich, P., Voelkle, M. C., Hossiep, R., and Güntürkün, O. ( 2019)
The Neural Architecture of General Knowledge
Eur. J. Pers., https://doi.org/10.1002/per.2217

Image: RUB, Erhan Genç