Thu Jan 20, 10:07 pm ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) – Experts use different parts of their brains than amateurs, maximizing intuition, goal-seeking and pattern-recognition, says a new study that examined players of shogi, or Japanese chess.
Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to compare the brain activity of amateurs and professionals who were presented with various shogi board patterns and were told to think of their next move.
They found that certain regions of expert brains lit up, while the amateurs' did not, said the research led by Japan-based scientist Xiaohong Wan and published in the journal Science on Thursday.
When they asked players to mull their next move, experts' brains showed more activity in the area associated with visualizing images and episodic memory, known as the precuneus area of the parietal lobe.
When pressed to come up quickly with a move, activity surged in another region called the caudate nucleus, where goal-directed behavior is rooted.
"This activation did not occur in the amateurs or when either group took their time in planning their next move," said the study.
Researchers believe that experts who train for years in shogi are actually perfecting a circuit between the two regions that helps them quickly recognize the state of the game and choose the next step.
"Being 'intuitive' indicates that the idea for a move is generated quickly and automatically without conscious search, and the process is mostly implicit," said the study.
"This intuitive process occurs routinely in experts, and thus it is different from inspiration, which occurs less frequently and unpredictably."
Precuneus: The mental imagery concerning the self has been located in the forward part of the precuneus with posterior areas being involved with episodic memory. Another area has been linked to visuospatial imagery.
The precuneus is involved in memory tasks, such as when people look at images and try to respond based on what they have remembered in regard to verbal questions about their spatial details. The precuneus has been suggested to be involved in directing attention in space both when an individual makes movements and when imaging or preparing them.
Learning and memory Historically, the basal ganglia as a whole have been implicated in higher-order motor control. The caudate nucleus was initially thought to primarily be involved with control of voluntary movement. More recently, it has been demonstrated that the caudate is highly involved in learning and memory, particularly regarding feedback processing. In general, it has been demonstrated that neural activity will be present within the caudate while an individual is receiving feedback. People with "superior autobiographical memory" appear to have slight increases in the sizes of the caudate nucleus as well as of the temporal lobe of the cortex
The left caudate in particular has been suggested to have a relationship with the thalamus that governs the comprehension and articulation of words as they are switched between languages.
Role in obsessive compulsive disorder
It has been theorized that the caudate nucleus may be dysfunctional in persons with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), in that it may perhaps be unable to properly regulate the transmission of information regarding worrying events or ideas between the thalamus and the orbitofrontal cortex.
A neuroimaging study with positron emission tomography found that the right caudate nucleus had the largest change in glucose metabolism after patients had been treated with paroxetine. Recent meta-analyses of voxel-based morphometry studies comparing people with OCD and healthy controls have found people with OCD to have increased grey matter volumes in bilateral lenticular nuclei, extending to the caudate nuclei, while decreased grey matter volumes in bilateral dorsal medial frontal/anterior cingulate gyri. These findings contrast with those in people with other anxiety disorders, who evince decreased (rather than increased) grey matter volumes in bilateral lenticular / caudate nuclei, while also decreased grey matter volumes in bilateral dorsal medial frontal/anterior cingulate gyri.
Does this suggest GM’s “speak” chess? Does it account for why some chess players’ behavior has been, well, odd? As chess players should we be studying differrently? Interesting stuff.