The brain's network configuration varies based on current task demands. For example, functional brain connections are organized in one way when one is resting quietly but in another way if one is asked to make a decision. We found that the efficiency of these updates in brain network organization is positively related to general intelligence, the ability to perform a wide variety of cognitively challenging tasks well. Specifically, we found that brain network configuration at rest was already closer to a wide variety of task configurations in intelligent individuals. This suggests that the ability to modify network connectivity efficiently when task demands change is a hallmark of high intelligence.ABSTRACT
The human brain is able to exceed modern computers on multiple computational demands (e.g., language, planning) using a small fraction of the energy. The mystery of how the brain can be so efficient is compounded by recent evidence that all brain regions are constantly active as they interact in so-called resting-state networks (RSNs). To investigate the brain's ability to process complex cognitive demands efficiently, we compared functional connectivity (FC) during rest and multiple highly distinct tasks. We found previously that RSNs are present during a wide variety of tasks and that tasks only minimally modify FC patterns throughout the brain. Here, we tested the hypothesis that, although subtle, these task-evoked FC updates from rest nonetheless contribute strongly to behavioral performance. One might expect that larger changes in FC reflect optimization of networks for the task at hand, improving behavioral performance. Alternatively, smaller changes in FC could reflect optimization for efficient (i.e., small) network updates, reducing processing demands to improve behavioral performance. We found across three task domains that high-performing individuals exhibited more efficient brain connectivity updates in the form of smaller changes in functional network architecture between rest and task. These smaller changes suggest that individuals with an optimized intrinsic network configuration for domain-general task performance experience more efficient network updates generally. Confirming this, network update efficiency correlated with general intelligence. The brain's reconfiguration efficiency therefore appears to be a key feature contributing to both its network dynamics and general cognitive ability.