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Published November 11, 2020 | Published
Journal Article Open

Multivariate Lesion-Behavior Mapping of General Cognitive Ability and Its Psychometric Constituents


General cognitive ability, or general intelligence (g), is central to cognitive science, yet the processes that constitute it remain unknown, in good part because most prior work has relied on correlational methods. Large-scale behavioral and neuroanatomical data from neurologic patients with focal brain lesions can be leveraged to advance our understanding of the key mechanisms of g, as this approach allows inference on the independence of cognitive processes along with elucidation of their respective neuroanatomical substrates. We analyzed behavioral and neuroanatomical data from 402 humans (212 males; 190 females) with chronic, focal brain lesions. Structural equation models (SEMs) demonstrated a psychometric isomorphism between g and working memory in our sample (which we refer to as g/Gwm), but not between g and other cognitive abilities. Multivariate lesion-behavior mapping analyses indicated that g and working memory localize most critically to a site of converging white matter tracts deep to the left temporo-parietal junction. Tractography analyses demonstrated that the regions in the lesion-behavior map of g/Gwm were primarily associated with the arcuate fasciculus. The anatomic findings were validated in an independent cohort of acute stroke patients (n = 101) using model-based predictions of cognitive deficits generated from the Iowa cohort lesion-behavior maps. The neuroanatomical localization of g/Gwm provided the strongest prediction of observed g in the new cohort (r = 0.42, p < 0.001), supporting the anatomic specificity of our findings. These results provide converging behavioral and anatomic evidence that working memory is a key mechanism contributing to domain-general cognition.

Additional Information

© 2020 the authors. Received June 4, 2020; revised Sep. 15, 2020; accepted Oct. 1, 2020. This study was supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences Grant T32GM108540, the National Institutes of Mental Health Grants 1 P50 MH094258 and 1 R21 MH120441-01, the Kiwanis Foundation, FC-Neuro University of Padua, National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke Grants 1 R01 NS114405-01 and NS095741, Flagship of the European Research Area Joint Transnational Call, Neuro-DiP: Progetto Dipartimenti di Eccellenza Italian Ministry of Research (MIUR), and CARIPARO Foundation Padova. This work was conducted on an MRI instrument funded by National Institutes of Health Grant 1S10OD025025-01. Author contributions: M.B., R.A., M.C., D.T., and A.D.B. designed research; M.B., J.B., and K.M. performed research; M.B. and J.B. analyzed data; M.B. wrote the paper. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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