Monday, July 25, 2011

Brains on chess

An interesting paper (citation and abstract below) recently came out in which they look at chess master versus amateur brains. It suggests that the "face area" in the brain is not really specialized for recognizing faces, but familiar spatial patterns more generally. In my analysis of the circles, I commonly drew on analogies between facial recognition and chess pattern recognition, and this partially justifies it (for instance, here and especially here).

I no longer am sure the circles are the best way, or even a particularly good way, to plant the seeds of recognition, but I think the overall picture of pattern storage and recognition, draw at the second link above, is sound.

New study:
Bilalić, Langner, Ulrich, and Grodd (2011) Many Faces of Expertise: Fusiform Face Area in Chess Experts and Novices. The Journal of Neuroscience, 13 July 2011, 31(28): 10293-10301.


The fusiform face area (FFA) is involved in face perception to such an extent that some claim it is a brain module for faces exclusively. The other possibility is that FFA is modulated by experience in individuation in any visual domain, not only faces. Here we test this latter FFA expertise hypothesis using the game of chess as a domain of investigation. We exploited the characteristic of chess, which features multiple objects forming meaningful spatial relations. In three experiments, we show that FFA activity is related to stimulus properties and not to chess skill directly. In all chess and non-chess tasks, experts' FFA was more activated than that of novices' only when they dealt with naturalistic full-board chess positions. When common spatial relationships formed by chess objects in chess positions were randomly disturbed, FFA was again differentially active only in experts, regardless of the actual task. Our experiments show that FFA contributes to the holistic processing of domain-specific multipart stimuli in chess experts. This suggests that FFA may not only mediate human expertise in face recognition but, supporting the expertise hypothesis, may mediate the automatic holistic processing of any highly familiar multipart visual input.


Blogger Chris Falter said...

So what wouldst thou recommend, o knight errant? About 3 weeks ago I started a daily regimen of 25 - 30 problems that includes review of the ones I had difficulty with (missed, or took longer than 1 minute to solve). I don't review the more successful attempts because I don't want to waste time reviewing stuff that's already well-acquired. My review occurs on days 1, 3, 7, 15, 31, and 63 after the initial attempt to solve. I even built a simple command-line java program to track my problem-solving efforts on

Haven't had enough time to make a definitive judgment on the method, but my tactics rating has increased by about 80 points since I started.

8/19/2011 03:57:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

That seems reasonable. I think the best way is likely to play games, and go over tactics that you see in your actual games. This lets you slowly build up patterns that you are most likely to see in practice (e.g., sac on f7 or whatever).

8/20/2011 12:39:00 AM  

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