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If You’re A Chess Player, You’re Probably Smarter Than Others

If You’re A Chess Player, You’re Probably Smarter Than Others

“Chess has all the beauty of art and much more” -Marcel Duchamp

Chess is a wonderful game. There are so many possible ways any one game can go. More than nine million after the first three moves, to be exact.

Chess players have always had the reputation of being especially intelligent, and with good reason. Watching them play can be fascinating to an outsider. Those who really know their stuff practice unbelievable skills – holding an invisible psychological battle with the person sitting right in front of them. A conversation that only those can keep up with can be let in on.

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Well, be prepared to be proven right, regular chess players, because studies have found that you might well be smarter. Here’s how:

Chess improves your memory

If you play chess, you are likely to have a better memory than those who don’t. Not only does it mean that you are less likely to have Alzheimer’s than your peers, it also means that you simply develop the part of the brain related to memory more.

This is because when playing chess you have to remember several things: the complex rules, how you messed up in past games, many different games played, different algorithms for the next right move, as well as remembering typical patterns of the opponent sitting right in front of you.

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When you are an expert, this information sits comfortably below the surface of your subconscious, meaning you don’t even have to wonder for too long about which complex move to make. It becomes instinctual.

Chess improves your ability to plan ahead

To know how to make a smart move in chess, you have to be able to foresee what your opponent might do, as well as your possible options to respond. It encourages much more patient forethought on the side of both players than most games. Indeed, without this skill, chess cannot be played well, and you are likely to lose.

This in turn led to teenagers who practiced chess to be more thoughtful about their life decisions, choosing more responsible options, rather than opting for the quicker, riskier choice.

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Chess makes you more creative

To be a good chess player is to be creative with your moves. The more original, the more you catch your opponent off guard. One study found that playing chess can actually improve your creative abilities. When students from grades seven to nine were tested against a control group who invested in other activities, the group playing chess were found to have higher levels of creativity, and scored particularly high in how original they were.

Chess raises your IQ

Whether chess is chosen to be played by those who are already smart is yet to be seen. What we do know for sure though is that those who do choose to play it are likely to see a significant increase in their IQ. Time and again, studies have shown this to be the case. Having been given eighteen chess classes the children were found to have higher IQ scores after compared to those who did not.

After four months of chess instruction, Venezuelan boys and girls’ IQ levels had clearly improved. Another study in Australia also found that the children already playing chess regularly at a competitive level had higher IQs than those who didn’t play.

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When playing chess, you use both sides of the brain

A German study found that when elite chess players are thinking about making their next move, they are using both sides of the brain at the same time. This is because they are both visualizing moves from past games (using the right hemisphere) as well as planning logically what they are going to do right now in the moment (left hemisphere). When using both sides of the brain, as you might imagine, you become a stronger thinker all round. Much like doing a full-body workout, it will make you stronger over all; chess is a great work out for the mind.

Chess helps you to connect the dots

Chess promotes the growth of dendrites. But what does this mean? Dendrites help the neurons in your brain to connect. So the more you have, the better. In real terms, this is a bit like saying you have just upgraded from 2G to 5G in terms of Internet speed. The connections in your brain will be able to connect a lot faster and more efficiently. You can look at more pages than ever before. Put simply, the challenging nature of chess makes your brain work more efficiently, ideas connect more easily, and you can hold more of them in your mind at the same time.

Chess can not only be good fun, psychologically challenging and a workout for the logical part of your brain, it can actually boost your IQ and stave off memory problems when you are older. So, you can feel smug if you’re already a grandmaster, or if you’re a newbie, why not try it out if you are looking for a new hobby? -Anyone for a game?!

Featured photo credit: Movie still from X-Men: First Class via masterchessopen.com

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Daniel Owen van Dommelen

Coder, Director, Writer, Human

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

You may have heard someone say they are “totally right brained” or that they’re “a left brained person.”

There is a pervasive myth that’s been making its rounds for over a century: people have two hemispheres of their brains, and if they have a dominant left brain, they’re more analytical; and if they have a dominant right brain, they are more creative.

Before we go debunking this theory and then giving some tips for how people can access their creative brain centers, let’s first take a look at where the left brain/right brain lateralization theory comes from.

The Left Brain/Right Brain Lateralization Theory

In the 1800s, scientists discovered that when patients injured one side of their brains, certain skills were lost.[1] Scientists linked those different skills to one side of the brain or the other. Thus began the left brain/right brain myth that continues to this day.

Then, in the 1960s and 70s, Roger W. Sperry led 16 operations that cut the corpus callosum (the largest region that connects both brain hemispheres together) in order to try to treat patients’ epilepsy. Sperry wrote about the differences in the two hemispheres as a result of those surgeries.[2]

Sperry’s work was popularized in 1973 with a New York Times article about his lateralization theory—that people were either right brained (read: logical) or left brained (read: creative). From here, Sperry won the Nobel Prize for his work and numerous other publications spread the right brain/left brain myth.

Debunking the Right Brain/Left Brain Myth

If anything, the lateralization theory of the brain is a gross exaggeration. It is true that people have two hemispheres of their brains. It is also true that there are differences in the composition of those two hemispheres.

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However, the hemispheres are actually much more interconnected than Sperry’s work initially made it seem.

In a 2013 study,[3] scientists scanned over 1000 people’s brains, checking for lateralization. They confirmed that certain brain functions occur predominately in one hemisphere or the other but that, in reality, the brain is actually much more interconnected and complex than the right brain/left brain lateralization theory makes it seem.[4][5]

A New Metaphor for Right Brain/Left Brain

How do we get past this right brain/left brain myth?

First, let’s look at what contemporary cognitive science says about brain regions, and creative and logical modes of thinking.

My background is as an improviser and improv researcher. I wrote Theatrical Improvisation, Consciousness, and Cognition and think looking at improvisation and the brain can shed light on a new model for talking about unlocking the brain’s creative potential.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans have shown that while trained improvisers improvise (musically on a keyboard, rapping, and comedic improvisation) an interesting shift happens in their brain activity. [6]

A region called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex decreases in activity and creative language centers such as the medial prefrontal cortex increase in activity. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is linked with conscious thoughts—that inner voice that tells you not to say something or criticizes you when you do.

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The medial prefrontal cortex is among the brain regions linked with creativity. So, instead of thinking about right brain and left brain, perhaps it’s more current and correct to think about more specific brain regions instead of hemispheres. Perhaps, it’s more useful to think about which activities and strategies will allow us to inhibit our dorsolateral prefrontal cortexes and allow our medial prefrontal cortexes to flourish.

How to Enhance Your “Right Brain” — Creativity

Whether we’re talking about right brain versus left brain, creative versus logical, or medial prefrontal cortex versus dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, we still know enough to talk about strategies to tap into your creative brain’s full potential.

So, now that we’ve dispelled the right brain/left brain myth and looked at a more contemporary, cognitive neuroscience theory of brain regions and creativity centers, let’s look at how to tap into the potential of your creative brain.

1. Performing Arts

One way to tap into your creative brain centers is to participate in the performing arts. Whether you improvise, act, or dance, the performing arts allow you an embodied experience that will help you snap out of your habitual, logical thoughts.

Another benefit of the performing arts is that it changes your attention. Attention and creativity are inextricably linked. When we improvise, act, or dance, we have to focus intently on our fellow performers. This means we are forced to focus less on our conscious, logical thoughts. This frees us up for more creative thinking and expression.[7]

One of the conclusions of my research on improvisation is that focusing intensely on fellow improvisers and the task at hand makes it more likely that we experience a flow state. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi,[8] a Professor of Psychology and Management defines flow as an optimal psychological state when our skills match the difficulty of the task at hand. Our perception of time is altered as we get into the zone and become more present and in the moment during our chosen activity.[9]

A flow state is a creative state. It’s the opposite of crunching numbers and forcing ourselves to work out a problem with the conscious regions of our brain. So, get up, improvise, act, or dance to access your creativity.

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2. Visual Art

Art teacher Betty Edwards[10] wrote a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Here again, we see that a shift in our attention can lead us to an increase in our creative thinking.

Edwards’ book gives art students tricks to shift the way they see the world. For example, one exercise encourages students to literally flip whatever it is they’re drawing upside down before they draw it. This forces budding artists to literally see the object in a new way. This shift allows them to focus more on the individual components and patterns of the object, which allows them to draw it better.

Shifting how we see things is another way we can access our creative brain centers. Take an art class to shut off your conscious, critical thoughts and start seeing things from a new, more creative perspective.

3. Zone Out

If there’s one thing creativity doesn’t like, it’s being coerced.

I think we’ve all felt that awful feeling of trying to force ourselves to be creative. When we force it, we’re really trying to force our logical brain regions to be creative. It’s like asking your gardener to perform your appendix surgery. It’s just not what she does.

Instead, stop forcing it. Take a break. Take a long walk or a relaxing bath or shower. Let your mind wander.

Whatever you do, stop forcing it. This break lets your creative centers rise to the surface of your attention and get heard.

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4. Practice Mindfulness

The final trick to start accessing your so-called right brain is to practice mindfulness.

Now, there’s a lot of different ways to go about mindfulness. You can take a more physical approach with a yoga class. Or you can try meditating to become more aware and in tune with your thoughts and feelings: Meditation for Beginners: How to Meditate Deeply and Quickly

You could also try to incorporate fun mindfulness exercises[11] into your everyday routine like forcing yourself to go on detours or pretending you’re a detective who needs to examine people and places closely.

Any way you do it, mindfulness exercises and training can help you become better versed in how your brain works and what your normal thought process is like on a day-to-day basis. If we’re ever going to reach our optimal creativity, we have to become an expert in how our individual brain functions. Mindfulness is one way to become your very own brain expert.

Mindfulness also has added benefits like calming us, slowing our breathing, and helping us become more observant, which are also great ways to start tapping into our creative potential.

Final Thoughts

So, it may not be correct to say that our right brain is our creative brain, but it is still a valid pursuit to try to optimize our creative brain centers.

The key to do so is to relax, become observant, shift your perspective, move your body, try something new, and, whatever you do, don’t force it.

Creativity can feel slippery. It can abandon us when we need it most, but by slowing down and looking at things from a new perspective, we can give ourselves a better chance of tapping into our ultimate creativity, even if that doesn’t exactly mean our “right brain.”

More Tips on Boosting Creativity

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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