Network dynamics theory of human intelligence

Aki Nikolaidis, Aron K. Barbey

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


For centuries the nature of human intelligence has motivated considerable research and debate. What mental abilities underlie intelligent behavior and how do they contribute to the expression of genius and creativity? How are these abilities shaped by the environment, cultivated through experience, and represented within the architecture of the human brain? While the precision of scientific theories and methods for investigating these questions has evolved over the years, in recent decades advances in cognitive neuroscience have afforded unprecedented insight into the nature and mechanisms of intelligence and creativity in the human brain. Indeed, the advent of neuroimaging methods has provided an opportunity to study the structural and functional organization of the brain as a window into the architecture of these higher-order cognitive capacities in the human mind. Contemporary neurobiological theories have applied neuroimaging methods to establish that individual differences in general intelligence can be localized to a specific network - the frontoparietal network - whose functions are largely believed to reflect intrinsic and stable computational properties that enable core facets of both intelligence and creativity (Barbey, Colom, & Grafman, 2013a; Barbey et al., 2012; Beaty et al., 2014; Duncan, 2010; Jung & Haier, 2007). Recent evidence from network and developmental neuroscience further demonstrates that static networks undergo both short-term dynamic fluctuations (Beaty, Benedek, Kaufman, & Silvia, 2015; Byrge, Sporns, & Smith, 2014; Deco, Jirsa, & McIntosh, 2011), and long-term changes over the developmental trajectory of the child and adolescent brain (DiMartino et al., 2014; Hutchison & Morton, 2015), and therefore motivate new perspectives about the dynamic (rather than static) and system-wide (rather than singular) network properties that underlie human intelligence and creativity. In this article, we introduce a cognitive neuroscience framework for understanding the nature and mechanisms of human intelligence, the Network Dynamics Theory, and review evidence to elucidate how functional brain networks and their dynamic properties underlie intelligence and its emergence over childhood and adolescence. According to this framework, intelligence emerges through the process of actively selecting and creating information that in turn modifies the brain’s internal structure and dynamics (Figure 21.1). The development of these internal dynamics over childhood and adolescence contribute to the maturation of the higher cognitive abilities associated with intelligence (Byrge et al., 2014) and likely creativity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of the Neuroscience of Creativity
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9781316556238
ISBN (Print)9781107147614
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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