By: Prof. Dr. Mohammad Tariqur Rahman
Cognitive or intellectual development is multifaceted. It starts from our childhood. From the right nutrition to engagement in intellectual debate, all aspects are crucial for intellectual development.
At a biological level, it depends on how the brain is developed. Intellectual development of the brain in a nutshell depends on the complex interactive connectivity of neurons of different parts of the brain.
Simply put, each of our senses is connected to a dedicated part of the brain. Seeing, hearing, muscle movement, touch, and tasting all have designated sets of neurons and their defined patterns of responses. A developed brain means coordination between all these senses and responses.
Let’s imagine a scenario where we experience a sudden drop of a spoon from the top of the dining table. If someone is in a premise capable of reaching the dropping spoon, they might want to attempt and catch it before the spoon touches the ground. Not everyone will succeed in catching the dropping spoon.
Here the catching of the dropping spoon involves at least two neuronal reflexes, i.e., brain activity. First, seeing the spoon being dropped and second moving the hand towards the right position to catch the spoon. There are other complex neuronal reflexes involved in the process. However, for the sake of simplifying the act, let us focus on those two reflexes.
The faster one can process those two reflexes, the higher one will have a chance to catch the spoon. Although those two reflexes are independent of each other, an immediate connectivity between these two reflexes is crucial to catching the spoon. How such connectivity can be improved?
Martial arts students improve their reflexes for movement by repeating the same act to build what is called muscle memory. When a movement is repeated over time, the brain creates long-term muscle memory for the given movement that could be performed with little to no conscious effort.
However, it is not guaranteed that a high level of reflex will remain the same once it is achieved. In fact to maintain the reflex level, one must continue practicing, i.e., repeating the act.
Let us now attempt to relate the martial arts movement reflex with our intelligence.
The “general intelligence” also known as “factor g” is the ability to understand and integrate information and finally use it to solve a given problem. Neuroscientists have made a reasonable assertion that intelligence — arguably one of the most fundamental features of consciousness — resides in the brain.
A developed human brain contains about 86 billion neurons, with over 100 trillion connections between those neurons. However, neuroscientists have yet to identify the precise location of the brain responsible for general intelligence.
Amidst other theories, the parieto-frontal integration theory remains the most reasonable one and proposes the origin of intelligence in a neural network mostly located in the frontal and parietal lobes of the brain.
While the prefrontal area is the focal point for intelligence in the brain, a reflection of intelligence such as how well one can think critically about a subject, or speak persuasively has been a mystery for a long time. Nevertheless, since intelligence is related to our ability to integrate information, it also depends on the memory located in the hippocampus region of the brain.
In summary, intelligence depends on a complex connection between different areas of the brain. Perhaps that led Richard Haier, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Irvine endorse that “intelligence is related to how well information travels throughout the brain.”
Albeit, we’re still a long way off from identifying the exact location of the origin of intelligence in the brain, however, we know for certain that intelligence involves complex neuronal connectivity between different parts of the brain.
One possible way to establish such a complex neuronal network is through reading a text aloud during childhood. This practice of reading aloud should be continued beyond childhood.
Reading aloud involves seeing the text, relating with the existing vocabulary, and finally hearing what is read. Human brain has dedicated areas for each of those functions.
Clearly, a complex neuronal connectivity is involved in such an act, i.e., reading aloud. Repeating this act at least theoretically enables one to establish a more efficient connection between neurons from different parts of the brain.
Since intelligence also involves “traveling of information throughout the brain” the complex neuronal connectivity during reading aloud is expected to sharpen the connectivity throughout the brain.
In other words, reading aloud would help to improve intelligence. Then the obvious question might be, how loud one should read then. Surely there is no specific range of decibels that can be ascertained.
As long as it does not sound noisy yet audible, that should suffice to establish a complex neuronal connectivity.
The author is the Associate Dean (Continuing Education), Faculty of Dentistry, and Associate Member, UM LEAD, Universiti Malaya. He may be reached at email@example.com