Intelligence based on pupil size?

Looking directly into another person’s eyes can reveal a lot about them. In fact, poker players often cover their eyes with sunglasses for fear of giving a tell, and some studies have shown that staring into another person’s eyes can create deep feelings of intimacy for those involved.

Now, it turns out, a person’s eyes might also reveal something unexpected and controversial: their level of intelligence, reports Discover.

In the new study, psychologist Jason S. Tsukahara and colleagues found a positive correlation between pupil size and cognitive ability. Of course, dilated pupils occur when the eye needs to let in more light, such as when you need to adjust to the dimmer light of a dark room. But what could having larger-than-average pupil size have to do with IQ? It turns out, changes in pupil size happen in a number of circumstances that don’t necessarily relate with changes in light levels.

“Starting in the 1960s, it became apparent to psychologists that the size of the pupil is related to more than just the amount of light entering the eyes. Pupil size also reflects internal mental processes,” wrote the researchers. “For instance, in a simple memory span task, pupil size precisely tracks changes in memory load, dilating with each new item held in memory and constricting as each item is subsequently recalled.”

So could this mean that people with generally larger pupils have more active minds? It’s certainly possible, but as any serious scientist will tell you, correlation does not necessarily equal causation. The researchers suggested another possibility: that both intelligence and pupil size might be influenced by some other shared factor.

“Neuroscience research has shown a close association of pupil size with activity in the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine system. [In the brain, norepinephrine] modulates the gain of target neurons to be more sensitive to incoming signals (both excitatory and inhibitory)… this modulation of neural gain has an effect on the strength of functional connectivity throughout the brain,” they wrote.

In other words, it’s possible that the key factor here is higher norepinephrine signaling. It would make sense that more intelligent people should be more sensitive to excitatory and inhibitory signals in the neural system. If higher norepinephrine levels are also correlated with larger pupil size, then the connection makes sense.

Of course, the study will need to be expanded to make sure the correlation does, in fact, exist. And it should also be noted that there are many other factors that relate to IQ than pupil size or norepinephrine signaling, so these factors hardly make for a conclusive intelligence test. Still, it’s an interesting twist on the old notion that the eyes are the windows to the soul.

source: Bryan Nelson

Meditation and Silicon Valley

“All the woo-woo mystical stuff, that’s really retrograde,” says Kenneth Folk, an influential meditation teacher in San Francisco. “This is about training the brain and stirring up the chemical soup inside.”

This excellent article at San Francisco, as the title suggests, is about meditation in the tech community. Beneath that it’s about the practical application of this powerful tool of the mind in an anxiously data-driven world. Beneath that it’s about selling the most ancient, inexpensive and available mental health tool there is to a community that might be perceived as a “tough sell.”

Perhaps the most damaging misconception about meditation is that it is difficult. What if we forgot all the ideas about spiritual enlightenment (what is that anyway?) and brought it back to good, old-fashioned chilling out? There is a law in science which states “That which can be observed cannot be you.” In meditation, we observe the mind. During stress or depression we are so heavily identified with our thoughts that we are lead by them, often down a rabbit hole of anxiety and distraction. If, in meditation, we learn to observe our thoughts and that they are not us, we can gain distance from the play of the mind. This detachment allows us to choose for ourselves where we place our attention. We train our brains to run cleaner and faster. We train our bodies to relax and heal themselves. We habituate systematic “chilling out” and can begin to conceive what all the mystical mumbo jumbo was about in the first place.

Repeated studies have demonstrated that meditation can rewire how the brain responds to stress. Boston University researchers showed that after as little as three and a half hours of meditation training, subjects tend to react less to emotionally charged images. Other research suggests that meditation improves working memory and executive function. And several studies of long-term practitioners show an increased ability to concentrate on fast-changing stimuli. One paper cited by the Google crew even implies that meditators are more resistant to the flu.

But Googlers don’t take up meditation just to keep away the sniffles or get a grip on their emotions. They are also using it to understand their coworkers’ motivations, to cultivate their own “emotional intelligence”—a characteristic that tends to be in short supply among the engineering set. “Everybody knows this EI thing is good for their career,” says Search Inside Yourself founder Meng. “And every company knows that if their people have EI, they’re gonna make a shitload of money.”