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« Pic of the Day | Main | Free Reads -- Tunes and the brain »

January 08, 2003

Free Reads -- Chess and intelligence

Friedrich --

Well, gee, if I have a brain cell or two, then I ought to be able to play chess well, right? But what if I can't play chess well? Does that mean I'm simply not smart? But I am, I am, I know I am...

That mini-monologue, which I suspect runs in the head of more than a few people, can now come to an end, I'm thrilled to report. Helen Pearson writes in Nature magazine that brain scans suggest that the "intelligence" part of the brain appears to be inactive when someone's playing chess, or even go. "Inactive" -- that's the word she uses.

Sample passage:

Practice and expertise may actually account for a lot of winning moves. "Most of the stuff we think of as smart is based on experience," says psychology expert John Gabrieli of Stanford University in California.

Pearson does write, though, that the research is preliminary. So maybe that self-torturing little monologue has a few years yet to run.

The article is readable here.



posted by Michael at January 8, 2003


I imagine that being good at spatial relationships is also a key part of being good at chess. By any chance, are you below average at reading maps?

I am....

Posted by: Kevin Drum on January 8, 2003 12:08 PM

Hi Kevin -- I actually like maps quite a lot, though now that you're suggesting a connection between an aversion to map-reading and lousy chess I find myself remembering that I prefer maps that have pictures on them. And I do more or less pass-out from frustration and boredom when I look at diagrams of circuitry, which are kind of like maps, only even more abstract. Hmmm. I'm becoming more persuaded by the minute.

In an earlier posting, someone (Glenn Frazier, I think) suggested that there might be a connection between having chess talent and having a knack for puzzles. As someone with no knack for chess and an active dislike for puzzles, heck, I was persuaded by that too.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 8, 2003 1:23 PM


I was so glad to read your commentary. I too have the monologue running in my head because I just began playing recently, having only played a total of two times as a nine-year-old child. Though I scored in the superior range on IQ testing, after two times at that game, I guess I felt inadequate and did not play again.

LOL, funny thing - there was a giant chess set at our hotel on our honeymoon this past winter, and on a rainy day, we played chess. He was explaining the rules, which came back to me, when two heavy-hitting chess players (with chess book in two) asked if they could watch. I joked about watching him instead of me, because I was just relearning, but because of some sort of language barrier (or snobbery), they simply sat down to watch - that didn't do much for my fears. They were very nice, but subsequently came questions about what age I first played chess and how long it had been, and when I made a move, they looked at each other and said, "Why did she do that?" in French, not knowing I understood them. They were kind of sizing us up on intelligence.

Eventually my husband and I quit and let them take over because it was a bit nervewracking - I was trying to re-learn the game, and they were obviously employing some strategies. I sat and learned by watching them, but it wasn't fun having what is common knowledge to be the cornerstone of your intellect sized up in an unfair assessment by two polite-but-judgmental French people, lol.

Thanks for letting me know that I'm not alone in this dialogue, and though I haven't played since last winter, I'm determined to learn this game well enough to feel less inadequate.

Funny thing - I'm really good at puzzles, logic puzzles, cryptrograms, that kind of thing - so I wonder if it just takes practice.:)

Posted by: Chrystal on February 11, 2003 11:00 AM

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