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Articles / Applying to College / Where The Brains Are

Where The Brains Are

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | June 21, 2012
Where The Brains Are

Do you live in a "brainy" part of the country? I happen to live in a small community about 50 miles away from a gigantic Big 10 university. The overflow of brain power from that school has covered my region and I can see evidence of both intellectual and artistic traits manifesting here. When you look around your community, do you see signs of brilliance, or, as the old joke goes, is there no intelligent life sighted?

Our society is eager to rank everything from colleges and universities (the infamous U.S. News rankings, controversial as they may be), through best places to live, to which washing machine is a "best buy." I've often wondered about the aspect of "smartness." We have smart phones, smart cars, smart refrigerators, and smart meals. So, why not smart places to live? Well, my wondering has been satisfied by a relatively young -- and smart -- company in San Francisco: Lumosity. According to its Web site, Lumosity's "neuroscientists and game developers work hard to design entertaining exercises you'll want to play everyday. After all, the harder you train, the stronger your brain. We believe that Lumosity.com is a truly enjoyable experience — and we're not the only ones who think this."

Well, their experience in this field of "gaming" has resulted in a very interesting look at the relative intellectual environment of various places in America. Using a unique formula, Lumosity has established a ranking of America's Brainiest Cities. In explaining this unusual ranking, Richard Florida, writing in The Atlantic, explains Lumosity's intent and rationale. Here are some excerpts from that article along with the Top 25 Brainiest Cities. Maybe you'll be lucky enough to live in one of them.

In a knowledge economy, we are often told the smartest cities and nations do the best. But economists typically measure smart cities by education level, calculating the cities or metros with the largest percentage of college grads or the largest shares of adults with advanced degrees. Others (like me) do it by charting the kinds of work people do and the occupations they hold, differentiating between knowledge or creative workers and others who do more routine manufacturing and service jobs.

But a new measure seeks to track the "brain performance" or cognitive capacity of metros in a different and potentially more direct way.

This metric, developed by Lumos Labs, is based on their cognitive training and tracking software, Lumosity. It covers some 20 million members (and 320 million individual game plays) who use the company's online games to assess and attempt to improve their cognitive performance. . . .

. . . To measure the smartest cities, Lumosity scientists tracked the cognitive performance of more than one million users in the United States on their games, mapping them across U.S. metros using IP geolocation software. Individual scores were recorded in five key cognitive areas: memory, processing speed, flexibility, attention, and problem solving.The data was normalized into a basic brain performance index controlling for age and gender. Only metros with more than 500 observations were included. The data cover 169 metros. . . .

Here are America's 25 brainiest metros, according to Lumosity's metrics:

1. Charlottesville, Virginia

2. Lafayette, Indiana

3. Anchorage Alaska

4. Madison, Wisconsin

5. San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose

6. Cedar Rapids-Waterloo-Iowa City & Dubuque, Iowa

7. Honolulu

8. Johnstown-Altoona, Pennsylvania

9. Champaign & Springfield-Decatur, Illinois

10. Minneapolis-St. Paul

11. Boston-Manchester (Massachusetts/New Hampshire)

12. Austin

13. Rochester, New York

14. Gainesville, Florida

15. Fargo-Valley City North Dakota

16. Lansing, Michigan

17. Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-San Luis Obispo

18. Burlington-Plattsburgh (Vermont/New York)

19. Pittsburgh

20. Syracuse, New York

21. Baton Rouge, Louisiana

22. Columbia-Jefferson City, Missouri

23. La Crosse-Eau Claire, Wisconsin

24. Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon-York Pennsylvania

25. Springfield-Holyoke, Massachusetts

There's a lot of college towns on the list. Charlottesville, Virginia, home to the University of Virginia, takes first place. Lafayette, Indiana, home to Purdue University, is second, while Madison, Wisconsin, home to the University of Madison-Wisconsin, is fourth. Iowa City (University of Iowa), Champaign, Illinois (University of Illinois), Austin (University of Texas), Gainesville (University of Florida), Lansing (Michigan State), Burlington (University of Vermont), and Syracuse (Syracuse University) all number among the top 25. . . .

. . . The result is not driven principally by college students, according to Daniel Sternberg, the Lumosity data scientist who developed the metro brain performance measure. "Since our analysis controlled for age, the reason they score well is not simply that they have a lot of young people," said Sternberg. "Instead, our analysis seems to show that users living in university communities tend to perform better than users of the same age in other locations." . . .


So, how did your community do in the rankings? If it's on the list, do you see evidence of intellectual vitality in your area? If it's not on the list, can you challenge Lumosity regarding why not?

This article has inspired a lot of emotion on the College Confidential discussion forum. I started a thread there about these rankings, and some of the comments swing between insightful and resentful. Check it out and let us know here on Admit This! what your feeling are. I'd like to know.


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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