The Intelligent Brain

Course No. 1642
Professor Richard J. Haier, Ph.D.
University of California, Irvine
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Course No. 1642
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Course Overview

No feature of the mind is as important, controversial, and mysterious as intelligence. It is one of the brain's highest-order activities, allowing us to navigate the complexities of everyday life—thinking, remembering, planning, learning, organizing, solving problems, making snap judgments, and pondering difficult decisions. It is the epitome of brain function, and it has a powerful influence on success in life. And thanks to decades of research, we are closer than ever before to understanding it.

Although many aspects of intelligence remain puzzling, researchers are now on their way to a detailed scientific explanation of what defines intelligence, where it comes from, and how it operates in the brain. Few fields of psychology are as crucial to the lives of people or the social policies of nations. An understanding of how the brain produces intelligence sheds light on questions such as these:

  • What's right and what's wrong with IQ tests?
  • Can intelligence be measured directly from the brain?
  • Can education or brain training enhance intelligence in children or adults?
  • Is intelligence constrained by genes?
  • What is the connection between intelligence and creativity?

The answers to these questions help determine policy decisions in education, employment, health care, and other fields. They also govern personal choices about how we want to lead our lives and raise our children. For example, is it realistic to gauge school success largely by rising test scores? Are everyday tools such as electronic devices unnecessarily complicated for most people to use? Or suppose a pill were available that could raise IQ. Would you take it? Would you allow your school-age children to take it?

The Intelligent Brain plunges you into a myriad of thought-provoking issues such as these in 18 stimulating half-hour lectures taught by Professor Richard J. Haier of the University of California, Irvine. Professor Haier is one of the world's foremost researchers on intelligence and a pioneer in the use of brain imaging technology to explore the workings of the human intellect.

Testing Intelligence

The modern history of intelligence research began with attempts to measure the differences that separate cognitively normal children from “abnormal” children. This was the origin of the first IQ test, designed by French psychologist Alfred Binet in the early 20th century. The Intelligent Brain traces the fascinating history of intelligence testing and its leading thinkers and their ideas, including the following:

  • g factor: First described by psychologist Charles Spearman over 100 years ago, g is the conjectured general factor of intelligence and is widely used today in research. It is not the same as IQ, which can be influenced by social and cultural factors, whereas g is thought to be largely innate.
  • Flynn effect: Challenging the idea of an innate g factor is James R. Flynn's research showing that average intelligence test scores have risen faster than can be explained by evolution. Critics contend that better education and test-taking skills help explain the increase, while leaving g relatively unchanged.
  • Multiple intelligences: Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences holds that instead of a single g factor there are diverse independent abilities—from facility with language to interpersonal skills. But if such abilities are not independent, is this evidence for the g model?
  • Arthur Jensen: The most infamous article in the history of psychology was written by Arthur Jensen, a prolific intelligence researcher. Professor Haier shows how Jensen's work on g factor differences among groups led to widespread criticism about the nature of intelligence.

While most of us are familiar with tests that assess intelligence through a long series of exacting questions, such as those on the college SAT, there may be a much simpler way to gauge intellectual ability. In this course, you get to try a stimulus/response exercise that is a shortcut to establishing mental quickness—and possibly intelligence.

Exploring Intelligence in Depth

As a pioneer in the field, Professor Haier was one of the first psychologists to use positron emission tomography (PET) to study brain function during tasks associated with intelligence. In addition, you investigate magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a newer and more powerful imaging technology than PET that can reveal brain structure and rapid changes in brain activity and has helped pinpoint areas of the brain associated with high IQ.

These lectures are illustrated with dozens of PET, MRI, and other remarkable images, including animations that show the shifting pattern of activity in a thinking brain, shedding light on what goes on inside the mind at work. Professor Haier also enlivens his presentation with examples of questions from different intelligence tests, giving viewers a taste of the methods used to rank individuals on the intelligence scale.

The Intelligent Brain discusses some of his surprising findings, which include differences in brain function in males and females when they are engaged in the same challenge at the same performance level. These results show that not all brains work the same way. Professor Haier also presents evidence that brain efficiency, not increased mental effort, may be the hallmark of intelligence.

You close the course by looking into the future. Today, no one questions the use of caffeine to improve mental performance. What will the attitude be toward neurochemicals that promise to enhance memory, learning, and other aspects of brain function? Will it be considered cheating for students to use such brain boosters before tests? Will these chemicals be embraced as a benefit to society? Should they be required like vaccines? What if only the rich can afford them? With The Intelligent Brain, you gain a deeper understanding of the intriguing recent research findings on this most complex of human phenomena.

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18 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    What Is Intelligence?
    Probe the nature of intelligence by looking first at the phenomenon of savants—individuals who excel at a narrow mental skill. Does this qualify as intelligence? Examine how intelligence is defined, and explore its connection to IQ and a variable called g, which is the conjectured general factor of intelligence. x
  • 2
    Assessing Intelligence
    What does an IQ test measure? Study the history of intelligence tests, including the Stanford-Binet test and the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. Consider typical questions used to measure intelligence, and learn how they are designed to avoid bias. Also look at the SAT for college admission. x
  • 3
    General Intelligence in Everyday Life
    Survey the importance of intelligence in 10 areas of everyday life, from school success to managing money to making medical decisions. What does the g factor predict about the ability to cope in these situations? Finally, consider the implications of such predictions for public policy. x
  • 4
    To g or Not to g—Is That the Question?
    Analyze a model of intelligence that incorporates two special factors: fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. Then explore alternatives to the g concept, including Robert Sternberg’s theory of practical intelligence and Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. What is the evidence for these ideas? x
  • 5
    Intelligence and Genius over the Life Span
    Follow the careers of geniuses throughout their lives in three classic studies that began in California in the 1920s, Scotland in the 1930s, and Baltimore in the 1970s. Each study started when the test subjects were children, testing their mental abilities and successes at various intervals. x
  • 6
    Early Childhood Experience and Intelligence
    Do early childhood experiences affect intelligence? Look at the value of compensatory education, which was evaluated in what may be the most controversial article in the history of psychology. Then examine the impact of environmental elements, such as culture, birth order, and family size. x
  • 7
    Genes and Intelligence
    Are there intelligence genes? Delve into the connection between genes and intellectual capacity, focusing on the search for relevant genes and environmental triggers that may govern gene expression. Also examine the history of intelligence research on identical twins, particularly those reared apart. x
  • 8
    Can We See Intelligence in the Brain?
    Brain imaging technology may be the most important development in intelligence research in the last 40 years. Explore positron emission tomography, or PET, which highlights areas of the brain that are working hardest. Learn that these data correlate in an unexpected way with intelligence. x
  • 9
    What Brain Imaging Reveals about Intelligence
    Turn to magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, a technique that can measure brain structure and changing brain activity. Among other findings, MRI scans suggest that men and women may have different brain areas related to the g factor. Also investigate a new brain imaging technology called magneto-encephalogram, or MEG. x
  • 10
    Intelligence and the Brains of Children
    Examine research about intelligence and the brains of children and adolescents. Focus on three questions: What aspects of brain development are related to intelligence? Are these developmental factors essentially the same for everyone? Is there a critical period when these factors can be influenced? x
  • 11
    Sex and Intelligence
    Survey average differences between the sexes in specific mental abilities, such as verbal fluency, fine motor skills, and mathematical and scientific reasoning. Do different performances in these spheres relate to sex differences in the brain? Do these differences help explain the disparity of men and women in certain professions? x
  • 12
    Race and Intelligence
    Tests such as the SAT show a persistent performance gap connected to race. This is one of the most volatile issues in the social sciences. Use the information developed in the course so far to analyze the issues and possible causes and remedies for closing the gap. x
  • 13
    Are We Really Getting Smarter?
    Delve into the controversy over the Flynn effect, named for psychologist James R. Flynn, who was one of the first to study the phenomenon of worldwide rising IQ scores. Is each generation really smarter than the last? If so, does this trend disprove a major role for genetics in intelligence? x
  • 14
    The Mind in Milliseconds
    Scores on intelligence tests are only meaningful compared to those of other people. In this lecture, explore a simple and easy way to estimate intelligence in absolute terms. Also, learn about the concept of “mental chronometry” to measure intelligence as proposed by the prolific and controversial researcher, Arthur Jensen of the University of California, Berkeley. x
  • 15
    Creativity and Intelligence
    Examine rare cases in which brain trauma unleashes hidden powers of creativity. How do such examples shed light on the problem of defining and measuring creativity? Next, probe the connection between creativity and intelligence, and explore intriguing clues from brain imaging studies. x
  • 16
    Can Intelligence Be Enhanced?
    Look into the future of intelligence enhancement, which may involve gene manipulation and an understanding of how specific genes function to increase intelligence. Then cover two nongenetic techniques that are being researched currently: memory training and an approach that promotes accelerated learning with mild electric shocks to the brain. x
  • 17
    Intelligence, Child Rearing, and Education
    Probe the potential for brain imaging to evaluate a student’s cognitive abilities. Can brain data be used to create a profile that would predict not only the pattern of cognitive strengths and weaknesses, but also how to tailor education for a person with that pattern? x
  • 18
    The IQ Pill
    If we could raise intelligence, should we? Consider the current controversy over the use of drugs by students to get better test scores. What about the future, when drugs to enhance memory, attention, and learning may be vastly better? Probe the ethical quandaries we may soon face in pursuit of ever-greater intelligence. x

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  • 138-page printed course guidebook
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  • Suggested readings
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Your professor

Richard J. Haier

About Your Professor

Richard J. Haier, Ph.D.
University of California, Irvine
Dr. Richard J. Haier is Professor Emeritus in the School of Medicine at the University of California, Irvine, where he has been teaching and conducting research since 1984. He earned his B.A. in Psychology from the State University of New York at Buffalo, and his Ph.D. in Psychology from Johns Hopkins University. Before his appointment at Irvine he was on the faculty of Brown University's Alpert Medical School. Professor...
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Reviews

The Intelligent Brain is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 34.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A scientific look at IQ Many would fear to tread where the professor goes. The very idea that IQ might be somewhat fixed by genetics is abhorrent to some. I found the lectures informative and especially the graphs showing fluid IQ decline as early a third decade . Perhaps this is why scientists usually do their best work in twenties then after the Nobel glide through the rest of their careers famous and with tenure, never again doing any truly ground breaking work. As for blacks and IQ, the most controversial aspect of psychometrics, I found the discussion irrelevant, since the world can take only so many prodigies. What we need is sharing and being sure every person has housing, employment and a decent life beyond the shackles of povery.
Date published: 2018-11-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not what I was after. Defective #2 Disc For someone who is deeply interested in psychology and its various research projects, this might be worthwhile.
Date published: 2018-08-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Solid explanations on brain functions A thorough discussion on ways to evaluate aspects of intelligence using measured brain data. Lots of interesting statistics on what contributes to intelligence and what doesn’t.
Date published: 2018-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course! The professor dared to use evidence and facts when discussing gender and race, which is almost never done in 21st century America. The whole course was interesting and worth buying. One of the best from The Great Courses.
Date published: 2018-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Intelligent Brain This is the 12th course that I have purchased over several years. This one is the tops! The professor is marvelous and an obvious master of a subject that is relevant to all of us. He is candid and fearless entering controversial areas. Each lecture is extremely interesting and I found myself binge viewing. This is the first review of a course that I have recommended so strongly.
Date published: 2018-03-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Intersting, hopeful, but lots is unknown so far Review of The Intelligent Brain #1642 Richard J. Haier 4star Interesting discussion about Intelligence – definitions, testing problems, meaning, differences between sexes, race, age, etc. Good graphics, tho most need more annotation. His specialty is in brain imaging - &suggests that it might show to use that to better understand intelligence, IQ, etc. Not all that clear that we can do that yet. As an old psych PhD, interesting, but maybe overly optimistic about what the studies mean. For the layman, should explain more of the power & why use factor analysis. I long ago found it to be very powerful. A lot of time spent on IQ, the “G Factor” testing, etc., - all before we get to any brain scans. Brain scans shown are interesting, but hard to see much “science” in the scans shown. He is optimistic that we will be able to see more detail & better evidence of what the scans mean. Not much hard evidence so far. He proposes that response time is related to intelligence, shows some data, but no real proof. This & other examples he says “are related”, but with no value for the correlation. To some of us a correlation of .50 is not very helpful, unless it comes from some very large, meaningful data set. A few tid-bits: 1. there are differences in people, in sexes, races, but no insight of why. 2. The brain seems to have local areas of activity, but also many cases of general wide spread activity. 3. Learning some tasks leads to LESS brain activity, implying more efficient processing, etc. Presentation is good, looks at the camera, clear speech, no odd mannerisms. Interesting – does present many sides to most questions, topics , interpretations. I did have the thot about when electro scalp measures were started – high hopes of finding meaning, but later it was like listening outside of a truck factory & asking what color is being used. So now interesting, but need a lot more study to make sense of what it means.
Date published: 2017-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Presenter This is a cogent and balanced presentation on a complex topic by an exceptionally good presenter who has a demonstrated body of work in intelligence research and who is active in ongoing research. Highest quality of the six Great Courses I have viewed so far.
Date published: 2017-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Most Intelligent purchase ever A group of old-timers, 70's to 90's, have been watching The Intelligent Brain lectures. We enjoy them and they lead to very lively and provocative discussions. Sometimes the content amazes us. It always get our juices flowing.
Date published: 2016-07-08
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