Aron Keith Barbey

Thompson Chair and Director of the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior

Personal profile

Personal profile

Aron Keith Barbey is the Mildred Francis Thompson University Professor and Director of the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior, and the Decision Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He began his career at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2011, where he was promoted to full professor in 2019. Dr. Barbey’s research investigates the neural mechanisms of human intelligence and decision making, with particular emphasis on enhancing these functions through cognitive neuroscience, physical fitness, and nutritional intervention. His research has been supported by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Defense, the White House BRAIN Initiative, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and private industry (Abbott Nutrition, Google Brain, and PepsiCo). Dr. Barbey has received multiple research awards and is co-editor of the Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence and Cognitive Neuroscience and editor of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Enhancement and Brain Plasticity. In 2023, Dr. Barbey was appointed to the United States Defense Science Study Group at the Institute for Defense Analyses. He earned his doctorate in Psychology from Emory University and completed a research fellowship in Cognitive Neuroscience at the National Institutes of Health. 

Professional Information

Cognitive Neuroscience of Human Intelligence

Unlocking the nature and biological origins of human intelligence remains one of the greatest scientific challenges of our time – with the potential for transformative impact in the psychological and brain sciences. By achieving a deeper understanding of the network architecture of intelligence in the human brain, we aim to develop more precise biological models of cognitive function, establish neuroscience-guided interventions to enhance performance, and design personalized training programs for precision health.

Our research suggests that intelligence is made possible by the brain’s remarkable capacity to reconfigure itself – to continually update prior knowledge on the basis of new information and to actively generate internal predictions that guide adaptive behavior and decision making. Rather than lying dormant until stimulated, we now recognize that the brain is a dynamic and active inference generator that anticipates incoming sensory inputs, forming hypotheses about that world that can be tested against sensory signals that arrive in the brain. Plasticity and adaptation are therefore critical for the emergence of human intelligence, providing a powerful mechanism for updating prior beliefs, generating dynamic predictions about the world, and adapting in response to ongoing changes in the environment.

This perspective provides a catalyst for contemporary research on human intelligence, breaking away from the classic view that intelligence originates from individual differences in a fixed set of cortical regions or a primary brain network. Our research suggests that general intelligence emerges from global, system-wide brain network dynamics and reflects the interaction of executive, social, and emotional processes. We believe scientific advances in the study of human intelligence will be propelled by bringing together these core facets of intelligence – infused by new research on the dynamic and adaptive nature of brain network function and modern AI methods from computer science and engineering to elucidate the information processing architecture of intelligence in the human brain. Our research in clinical and translational neuroscience has focused on traumatic brain injury and sports-related concussion, conducting studies to investigate the network architecture of intelligence and guide the design of novel interventions to promote recovery of function (e.g., based on non-invasive brain stimulation (tDCS), mindfulness meditation, physical activity and aerobic fitness training, and nutritional interventions).

Education/Academic qualification

Ph.D., Emory University

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