Big Brain, Little Brain

Many of us assume that bigger brains are more intelligent. The following article takes a look at this and attempts to help you decide for yourself.
(Figure 1, Mouse with HARE5 DNA)
Debates concerning brain size are currently in the news, this recent experiment, for example, attempted to prove that big brains are better. They took DNA from humans and chimpanzees and inserted it into various mice. Human and chimp brains start off the same but after 22 weeks in the womb the chimps brain stops developing, the newly found human DNA might be the reason. The following quote from the Washington Post talks about this gene;

“Focusing on a region called HARE5 (short for human-accelerated regulatory enhancer), which testing indicated had something to do with brain development. The brains of these genetically modified mice grew 12 percent bigger than ones given the chimpanzee version of HARE5.”  (Rachel Feltman, 2015)

(Figure 2, Alien)
It can be said that bigger brains may have always been associated with intelligence. Some older pictures and concept art of aliens can be seen to have had much bigger heads in comparison to us, which could indicate that aliens were seen as being more intelligent than humans.
(Figure 3 Diagram of Chairi)
(Figure 4MRI scan showing my spinal fluid flow)
(Figure 4MRI scan showing my spinal fluid flow – click to play)

(Figure 5,  Scan of brain, Wellington hospital)
(Figure 5, Scan of brain, Wellington hospital – click to play)
Ironically my brain was too big; due to my personal problem I will be taking this blog post on a bit of a tangent but this topic is important to discuss as it sparked my interested in brains. I used to trampoline competitively but took a small fall and, following this, I began to notice constant headaches and backaches whilst attempting to train and often when just walking. I went to hospital to find the cause of the pain, which led to the discovery that I had a ‘Chiari Malformation 1’ meaning my brain is too big for my skull and it was pushing the brainstem into the neck opening which was restricting the flow of spinal fluid. The spinal fluid being restricted caused a bulge in the spinal cord, known as a syrinx which caused my spine to become S-shaped (scoliosis) which then caused a loss of feeling and pain in my arms and legs.

To help, they carved away the skull opening and the top disk of my spine which made more space for my brainstem. The operation was called Foramen Magnum Decompression. My scoliosis was caught early enough that a major back operation wasn’t necessary but I did have to wear back braces for a couple of years to prevent it from getting any worse.

(Figure 6, Albert Einstein)
There are plenty of people that have smaller brains and are very intelligent. An example of this is Einstein’s brain; it was removed and studied after he died and it was found that his brain was actually smaller than average.
(Figure 7, Pigeon)

(Figure 8, Parrots)
The animal kingdom has animals with a variety of brain sizes that do not correlate with the intelligence of the species.

One example is that pigeons are able to recognise people’s faces as well as themselves in a mirror, and although the stereotype exists that pigeons have a brain the size of a pea, they are said to have a relatively large brain for the size of their heads.

Another example is that parrots can mimic human words and even sentences and are thought to be the most intelligent bird. However mimic doesn’t mean they always understand what they are saying.

(Figure 9 , Elephant)
The elephant brain is said to be 5 kilograms heavier than other mammals of a similar size. They have good memory as well as the ability to follow commands from humans making them one of the most obedient animals. They are naturally very artistic being able to use different objects without needing to be taught. This image is showing an elephant painting a picture of an elephant! (The Most Ten of Everything, n.d.)

(Figure 10, Brain)
Larger brains do not necessarily mean more capacity for thought. The brain is divided into sections that are responsible for different tasks such as memory, thought, muscle movement etc. Large animals require a large part of their brain to control their muscles so a physically large brain may not indicate a large ‘thought section’. Einstein’s brain was smaller than average but the part of the brain that enabled him to do mathematics was larger than normal. Exercising particular parts of the brain will increase these parts and neglecting others will cause shrinkage. The brain works just like a muscle that needs a workout, Murnaghan writes;

“Researchers have concluded that intelligent thi­­nking doesn’t necessarily mean that more neurons are needed.” Even though an elephant’s brain is large, the sections of the brain that are devoted to thought or movement are sized according to the needs of the animal. (2012)

(Figure 11, Ants)
Although intelligence is not dependent on how large a brain is, ants, which are considered to be the smartest insect, have the biggest brain in proportion to its own body size. Ants are unusual, they work better in teams and they seem to be born with their skills rather than learning from life experience.

(Figure 12, Taxi)
Intelligence has a lot to do with training your brain skills. Human brains however are set up for a life time of knowledge and skill but with practice of course. It’s also worth noting that the strangest things seem to increase brain size;

“Scientists have found that the brains of London’s cab drivers enlarge and change as they learn complicated routes. Cab drivers who have been navigating the streets for years had significant structural changes, as they exhibited a larger posterior hippocampus and a slightly smaller front hippocampus.” (BBC, 2000)

(Figure 13, Marching Morons)
Good breeding is also a factor, parents often seek intelligent partners for their offspring. This was taken to its lowest common denominator when Cyril Kornbluth imagined a future were evolution worked against the human race. Survival of the fittest no longer applies in a world where you don’t have to fight for your food, instead those that propagate take over the population;

“‘The Marching Morons’ is a science fiction short story written by Cyril M. Kornbluth in 1951. John Barlow, a man from the past put into suspended animation by a freak accident, is revived in this future. The world seems mad to Barlow until Tinny-Peete explains The Problem of Population: due to a combination of intelligent people prudently not having children and excessive breeding by less intelligent people, the world is full of morons.” (Kornbluth, C. M. 1951).

(Figure 14, Brain food)
In terms of what can be done to improve your brain functioning, certain foods can help, for example when your cells breakdown to make energy they leave behind a waste called a free radical, these free radicals can attack your brain cells. A great way to get rid of the free radicals is to eat food with vitamin E or antioxidants such as : carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts, blueberries. Fish and walnuts which are filled with omega-3, a powerful nutrient for the focus of the mind, eggs have been proven to be good for the memory and whole-grain breaks down slowly keeping you alert for hours.

(Figure 15, Aluminium aerosols)
Additionally, you shouldn’t take in heavy metals as they will damage your brain. Heavy metals are more common than you think, they enter your food through utensils or packaging and can also get into your body directly in the form of aerosols such as deodorant;

“When aluminum enters your body, it’s absorbed and can accumulate in the kidneys, brain, lungs, liver and thyroid. Aluminum exposure is common with some occupations like welding and mining. In these industries, vapors may be present and inhalation can result in a ‘super absorption’ status. Aluminum is one of many toxic metals thought to cause brain problems. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s have been repeatedly examined for a relation to aluminum accumulation in the brain.” (Doctor Edward, 2003)

To conclude, it can be said that it doesn’t seem to matter how large a brain is as size does not correlate with intellegence. It can be suggested that the idea of being unintelligent due to a small brain is merely a stereotype that is stuck within our society, which can be seen through the pictures of aliens with larger heads as we invisioned them as intellgent life forms. Although it has been found that many intellegent animals have large brains, this is not the case for humans. It could possibly be that of two people with the same size brains, one may be seen as more intellgent due to their ability to be mathematically able, although the other may be just as intellgent but in an artistic way, this is dependent of what part of the brain is exercised and naturally more developed.


Anon. (n.d.). The most 10 of everything. Retrieved February 20, 2015, from The most 10 of everything:

BBC), D. E. (2000, March 14). BBC News. Retrieved February 21, 2015, from BBC:

Doctor Edward. (2003, March 18). Affects of toxic metals. Retrieved February 21, 2015, from Global Healing Center:

Kornbluth, C. M. (1951). The Marching Morons. Chicago: Galaxy.

Murnaghan, I. (2012, October 1). Why a bigger brain isn’t a better brain. Retrieved February 2, 2015, from Brain Skills:

Rachel Feltman. (2015, February 19). Scientist pinpoint gene regulator that make human brains bigger.

Table of Figures

Figure Number Description Reference
Figure 1 Mouse with HARE5 DNA
Figure 2 Alien with large head
Figure 3 Diagram of Chairi
Figure 4 MRI scan showing spinal fluid (CSF) Wellington hospital MRI scan
Figure 5 MRI scan of brain Wellington hospital MRI scan
Figure 6 Albert Einstein
Figure 7 Pigeon
Figure 8 Parrots
Figure 9 Elephant
Figure 10 Brain
Figure 11 Ants
Figure 12 Taxi
Figure 13 Marching Morons
Figure 14 Brain food
Figure 15 Aluminium aerosols

4 thoughts on “Big Brain, Little Brain

  1. Like this a lot, never thought about the brain in these ways before! It’s interesting to think about stereotypes by using our perceptions of aliens as having larger heads because we think they could be smarter than us. Awesome stuff

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really enjoyed reading this, it really made me think!
    The idea of the brain size changing the intelligence of a person is something I’ve never considered before. Great read.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very engaging ideas, especially the concepts surrounding our views of how we, as the human race, view the intelligence of other creatures. Fascinating stuff that I will most defiantly think about. Thank you writer.


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