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Research on the neural efficiency hypothesis of intelligence (NEH) has revealed that the brains of more intelligent individuals consume less energy when performing easy cognitive tasks but more energy when engaged in difficult mental operations. However, previous studies testing the NEH have relied on cognitive tasks that closely resemblepsychometric tests of intelligence, potentially confounding efficiency during intelligence-test performance with neural efficiency per se. The present study sought to provide a novel test of the NEH by examining patterns of prefrontal activity while participants completed an experimental paradigm that is qualitatively distinct from the contents of psychometric tests of intelligence. Specifically, participants completed a personaldecision-making task (e.g., which occupation would you prefer, dancer or chemist?) in which they made a series of forced choices according to their subjective preferences. The degree of decisional conflict (i.e., choice difficulty) between the available response options was manipulated on the basis of participants' unique preference ratings for the target stimuli, which were obtained prior to scanning. Evoked oxygenation of theprefrontal cortex was measured using 16-channel continuous-wave functional near-infrared spectroscopy. Consistent with the NEH, intelligence predicted decreased activation of the right inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) during low-conflict situations and increased activation of the right-IFG during high-conflict situations. This pattern of right-IFG activity among more intelligent individuals was complemented by faster reaction times in high-conflict situations. These results provide new support for the NEH and suggest that the neural efficiency of more intelligent individuals generalizes to the performance of cognitive tasks that are distinct from intelligence tests.


Institute for Positive Psychology and Education

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Journal Article

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