A new study conducted at University of Adelaide shows that intelligence in humans can be estimated by the size of the holes in the skull through which the arteries pass.
"It is possible to estimate brain metabolic rate from the size of the arteries that supply the brain with blood," said lead author Roger Seymour in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Adelaide.
Published in the Journal of Experimental Biology
, researchers showed that the connection between intelligence and hole size stems from brain activity being related to brain metabolic rate.
Professor Seymour measured the 'carotid foramina' (which allow passage of the internal carotid arteries servicing the brain) in primates and marsupials and found large differences.
"During the course of primate evolution, body size increased from small, tree-dwelling animals, through larger monkeys and finally the largest apes and humans," Seymour said.
A human brain contains nearly 100 billion nerve cells with connections measured in the trillions.
Each cell and connection uses a minute amount of energy but, added together, the whole brain uses about 20 percent of a person's resting metabolic rate.
If an artery passes through a bone, then simply measuring the size of the hole can indicate the blood flow rate and in turn the metabolic rate of the organ inside.
"Our analysis showed that on one hand, brain size increased with body size similarly in the two groups. On the other hand, blood flow rate in relation to brain size was very different. The relative blood flow rate increased much faster in primates than in marsupials," Seymour said.
The blood flow rate and presumably brain metabolic rate increased with brain volume much faster than expected for mammals in general.
By the time of the great apes, blood flow was about 280 percent higher than expected.
"The difference between primates and other mammals lies not in the size of the brain, but in its relative metabolic rate. High metabolic rate correlates with the evolution of greater cognitive ability and complex social behavior among primates," Seymour said.