WHAT makes some people smarter than others? The answer may be the size of brain cells — the bigger and faster the neurons, the higher the IQ. If confirmed, the finding could lead to new ways to boost intelligence.
Most intelligence research has identified brain regions involved in certain skills, or pinpointed hundreds of genes that each play a tiny role in IQ. A team at the Free University Amsterdam in the Netherlands studied tissue from 35 people requiring surgery for brain tumours or severe epilepsy.
Each took an IQ test before healthy tissue from the temporal lobe — which helps us make sense of what we see, recognise language and form memories — was removed.
The results revealed brain cells are significantly bigger in people with high IQ scores. Bigger cells have more dendrites — projections that connect to other neurons — and the dendrites are longer, suggesting they may be able to receive and process more information.
Pushing currents of electricity through neurons also showed those with the highest IQ coped better with higher frequency — suggesting they have faster reaction times. Researchers believe brain cells explain about a quarter of the differences in IQ, and genes account for up to seven per cent.
Prof Richard Haier at the University of California, Irvine, said: ‘What they did is extraordinary neuroscience. This could lead to ways to enhance human intelligence — perhaps dramatically.’
However, it is unclear why some people have bigger brain cells, and whether this is a cause or a consequence of high IQ. Prof Wendy Johnson of the University of Edinburgh says to establish a clear link between brain-cell properties and intelligence, you would need to study thousands of brain samples.
Why u-rine trouble if you let your dog lick you
IF walkies to the toilet gives you a problem, your dog could be to blame.
Dogs are a source of urinary tract infections (UTIs), mainly caused by bacteria from a person’s faeces — usually E.coli — infecting the bladder, urethra or kidneys.
Dr Peter Damborg, of the University of Copenhagen, screened 19 pet owners with UTIs and found two had dogs carrying E.coli that matched their infection. He suggests people avoid being licked by their pets.
Rhythm and news! Drums are tribal ‘telephone’
IT MAKES you want to tap your foot or get up and dance.
And in one Amazon tribe, rhythm also lets you swap messages with someone 12 miles away, just by hitting drums.
The Bora people can transmit every word in their language via pairs of manguaré instruments.
Each drum makes two notes but the key to interpreting the sounds is the beat, found researchers from the University of Grenoble Alpes in France.
The rhythm mirrors the tribe’s language, with the number of beats matching the number of syllables and the pauses between them reflecting the spaces in words.
Smarten up your walls with special Disney paint
NO MORE fumbling for light switches in the dark. The Disney Research lab and Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania, have created a conducting paint which converts walls into surfaces that sense taps or swipes. Wall++ can replace light or volume switches and thermostats. If a film or video game is projected on to the wall, it could be controlled by sensory buttons. It also picks up electromagnetic signals from devices such as hairdryers or food blenders.
Hearing aid that knows what you’re listening to
USERS of hearing aids can often struggle with the cocktail party effect — the inability of the brain to follow one conversation in a room full of chatter.
Now a device that listens to the brain’s activity can help pinpoint which voice the wearer is trying to focus on.
Most hearing aids have microphones that amplify the voices coming from in front of you — but conversations don’t just happen face to face.
The new behind-the-ear device samples the user’s brainwaves as well as the audio signals in the room to work out which sound needs to be turned up.
The prototype gadget, designed by Florian Denk and his colleagues at the University of Oldenburg in Germany, would need to be made much smaller to be useful. Another drawback is that the brain signals it records have to be decoded using a desktop computer.
But with many high-end hearing aids now coming with Bluetooth, it is possible that a smartphone or a remote server could do the job. Such a system could allow the device to function with only a fractional delay.
Surgery hits the spot to bring back lost orgasms
THREE women have received surgery intended to improve G spot sensitivity.
The procedure tightens tissue in the vaginal wall around the so-called G spot, an area reputed to produce intense orgasms when stimulated.
Dubbed a G-spotplasty, the surgery was performed on women who’d lost the ability to orgasm through vaginal stimulation alone following childbirth.
For each woman, Prof Adam Ostrzenski, a gynaecologist in Florida, removed a small piece of vaginal wall from the supposed location of the G spot. He then stitched the wall back together, causing it to tighten.
After the procedures, all three women said that they had regained the ability to reach vaginal orgasm — without stimulation of the clitoris — and had sex more frequently. But there was no placebo in the study.
In 2012, Prof Ostrzenski claimed to have identified the G spot as a well-defined sac within the front vaginal wall. But Dr Devan Stahl, of Michigan State University, said: ‘There are researchers who think it absolutely does not exist, others who think that it may exist but not every woman has it, and others who think it is not a single “spot” but a complex of varied anatomical structures.’
She said that the G-spotplasty reinforces the message that some women have a problem. ‘What is actually statistically normal — difficulty achieving orgasms through penetrative vaginal intercourse — is now considered pathological.’
■ Based on stories in the latest issue of New Scientist, which is available in the shops now. For more cool science and technology stories go to newscientist.com