If we’re being really honest, those trivia stars that know way more general knowledge than they should are already pretty insufferable.
But I have bad news – they’re about to get worse. A small study has shown those with good general knowledge might have really efficiently wired brains.
And you can bet that they’ll tell you all about it the next trivia night.
“The present study addresses the yet unanswered question whether interindividual differences in the brain’s structure and function are linked to interindividual differences in general knowledge,” the researchers write in their paper.
“Our results provide first evidence of neuroanatomical correlates linked to general knowledge and add a missing piece to the mosaic constituting the biological foundation of cognitive performance, which still happens to be largely incomplete.”
The team of researchers, from Ruhr University Bochum and Humboldt University Berlin, took 324 healthy people (many of them students) and used a number of different MRI techniques to work out their structural and functional brain pathways.
One particular type of imaging, called diffusion tensor imaging, reconstructs the pathways of our nerve fibres. They then used models to determine the ‘efficiency’ of these pathways.
The researchers also asked the participants to complete a general knowledge test, called the Bochum Knowledge Test. It’s made up of over 300 questions from a variety of fields, and it’s hard – on average the participants got less than half correct.
The team then used a number of models to try and test the hypothesis that general knowledge was related to the efficiency of the nerve fibre pathways.
The team found that both age and sex were associated with higher general knowledge (older men did best on the test), but they did find a small amount of variation that the team attributed to the structure of the brain (which they called the global efficiency of the structural network or NETstruc).
“Importantly, NETstruc remained as the only brain property showing a unique contribution in predicting general knowledge,” the team explains in the paper.
So why does this happen? The team do have an idea, but we’ll need more research to confirm.
“We assume that more efficient networking of the brain contributes to better integration of pieces of information and thus leads to better results in a general knowledge test,” says first author and biopsychologist Erhan Genç, from Ruhr University Bochum.
Now, it’s important to note that this isn’t a smoking gun. It was a relatively small sample size, and there was only a small difference (although it was significant) that could be attributed to the efficiency of the nerve pathways.
Despite this, it’s an interesting look into how our brains work – just maybe don’t tell the guy who always wins at trivia.
“Although we can precisely measure the general knowledge of people and this wealth of knowledge is very important for an individual’s journey through life, we currently know little about the links between general knowledge and the characteristics of the brain,” says Genç.
The research has been published in the European Journal of Personality.