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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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Published on October 15, 2019

How Memory Works (And How You Can Make It Work for You)

How Memory Works (And How You Can Make It Work for You)

Ever lose your car keys? Have trouble remembering a word that feels like it’s on the tip of your tongue? Forget why you walked into a room?

Memory can appear simple, like a videotape in your head that either turns on or doesn’t. You either remember or you don’t, right?

Not so much.

In reality, memory is a wildly complex process that experts are still figuring out. But diving into how memory works and what current research is discovering can help you better understand how to make memory work for you. So, how does memory work?

How Memory Works: The Basics

Neurons and Synapses

At its most basic level, memory is about neurons and synapses. Neurons are nerve cells in the brain, and synapses are the junctions between neurons. The synapses carry signals from neuron to neuron. These are the pathways that can form memories.[2]

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that allow the neurons to send their signals through the synapses. So, chemicals in your brain trigger neurons to signal other neurons through their synaptic connections.[3][4]

Neural connections aren’t forever. The brain is constantly changing because your neural pathways are constantly forming and eroding, weakening and strengthening.[5]

If you want to increase the chances of remembering something, a good start is to beef up these pathways. In short, use the neural pathway so you don’t lose them.[6]

The 3 Stages of Memory[7]

1. Encoding

Before a memory can form, we first have to sense something. Let’s say we see a table or smell a flower. This is called sensory input.

Encoding is the process of changing that sensory input so that it can potentially be stored later as a memory.

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There are three different ways encoding happens: visual, acoustic, and semantic.

Visual encoding is when the sensory input is being changed into a picture or visual representation. Acoustic is auditory and semantic involves words.

For example, when you are studying a picture, you are using visual encoding. When you say someone’s name over and over to try to remember it, you are using auditory encoding to try to store that name in your memory. And when you write down ideas in your own words, you’re activating semantic encoding.

2. Storing

After a sensory input gets encoded, the brain has two major ways of storing that encoded information as memory.

The first is in short-term memory. Short-term memory occurs predominately in your prefrontal cortex, which is behind your forehead. The brain can only hold a limited amount of information in short-term memory before it is either turned into long-term memory or forgotten.

The other major category of memory storage is long-term memory. Long-term memory requires short-term memories to be consolidated. This happens when neural pathways are strengthened by an increased number of signals, especially in the brain region called the hippocampus.

There are many types of long-term memory including procedural, declarative, implicit, and explicit.

Procedural memory does not require us to consciously recall information. Think about riding a bike, procedural memory is a kind of implicit memory, which means we don’t have to consciously recall anything.

On the other hand, declarative memory is when you can consciously recall facts or figures. Declarative memory is a kind of explicit memory, which means we do consciously recall information.

3. Retrieval

The final stage in memory formation is retrieval.

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Retrieval is when you recall information through those neural pathways that previously encoded and stored information. The interesting part of retrieval is that it is never exactly the same as when the input was encoded or stored.

Retrieval is like a reconstruction of what was encoded and stored. It is not at all like a video recording that can be played and replayed, and stays the same each time.

The act of retrieval is actually a creative act. The brain has to sift through all kinds of neural noise to recreate or recall the memory. So, much of our accuracy at remembering really depends on what competing, neural pathways are also signaling.

Scientists have recently discovered that retrieval also depends a great deal on what the brain has forgotten.[8]

The Importance of Forgetting

Recently, scientists have discovered that neurons in the hypothalamus clear out old memories during sleep.[9]

Some scientists now think that forgetting things is an active mechanism in the brain that actually helps us clear out less important information in order to better retrieve the important ones.[10]

Scientists discovered a group of neurons in mice’s brains that were active during R.E.M. sleep.[11] These neurons were suppressing other neurons in the hippocampus, essentially clearing out some memories during the dream stage of sleep.

They think this might be why people struggle to remember their dreams. There’s an active forgetting process occurring at that time to clear out some of the neural pathways, thereby clearing out some of the neural noise in the brain to make retrieval of important memories easier.

Now that we’ve answered, “How does memory work,” you can start to make your memory work better for you.

How You Can Make Your Memory Work for You

1. Practice Different Encoding Strategies

Because the brain encodes inputs in three different ways, experiment with all three (visual, auditory, and semantic) to see which is more effective for you personally.

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Everyone’s brain is different, there are lots of different types of memory, and each brain has billions of neurons, so it makes sense that encoding isn’t going to be the same for every person and in every situation.

So, mix it up. Draw a picture, repeat something aloud, and put it in your own words.

Many people think auditory encoding is crucial for long-term memory, so try to turn information into a song or repeat something aloud numerous times to consolidate information into long-term memories.

2. Don’t Just Remember with Your Brain

Some memory happens in the body. Think procedural memory. So don’t forget about using your whole body to try to remember better.

Get out of your chair. Walk around. Dance while reciting the information you want to remember.

3. Pay Closer Attention to Sensory Inputs

Memory starts with sensory inputs, so the more you tune in to your environment and the people around you, the more likely you will remember things.

Make things important. Pay attention. Be mindful of what’s going on around you. Memory starts with perception, so put the phone down and give your brain some concentrated inputs.

4. Write Stuff Down

Memory is imperfect and requires encoding, so another way to make memory work for you is to write things down. Writing is a kind of semantic encoding but it’s also an active, embodied experience, which will get more parts of your brain on board.

5. Get Your 8 Hours of Sleep

Since some scientists now think clearing out old pathways is important to the retrieval of other memories, you need to give your brain the chance to clear out some of that noise.

Get a full night’s rest, so that you can have some solid rounds of R.E.M. sleep. This gives your brain a chance to clear out unimportant pathways and boost retrieval.

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6. Use It or Lose It

Memory is an active process, so practice that process regularly. Strengthen your pathways to have a better chance of remembering the things you want to remember.

7. Get Some Exercise

Move your body and get some oxygen flowing into your brain. Some studies show that exercise helps strengthen your memory.[12] It reduces inflammation in the brain, which enhances your neurons’ ability to create their pathways.

8. Know That Memory Is a Creative Process

Now that you know that memory isn’t just a perfect recording, use that to your advantage.

Practice your retrieval, but be open to other people’s interpretations of the past. Memory is imprecise. Be okay with the imprecision.

Final Thoughts

How does memory work? Memory starts with sensory inputs then moves on to encoding, storing, and retrieval. The very act of remembering something hinges on the strength of our neural pathways and the amount of competition between other pathways.

The good news is that the brain is plastic, meaning it changes. It changes the most when we are young, but it’s encouraging to know that throughout our lives, it never stops changing.

We are constantly forming, reforming, and eroding pathways in the brain. Which pathways you deem important and which you focus on will determine how your brain remembers in the future.

So, be conscious and intentional about your pathways. Be mindful of your sensory inputs and then intentional in how and what you encode and then what you consolidate into long-term memory.

And use it or lose it. Memory is active and complex, and the more we practice and get to know it, the stronger and healthier our pathways will be in the future.

More About Memory

Featured photo credit: bruce mars via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] McLeod, S. (2013). Stages of memory: encoding storage and retrieval. Retrieved September 23, 2019
[2] Matlin, M. W. (2005). Cognition. Crawfordsville: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
[3] Stierwalt, S. (2016, November 19). How memory works and 6 tips to improve it. Retrieved September 23, 2019
[4] Texas A&M University. (2016, May 17). How does memory work? ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 23, 2019
[5] Sternberg, R. J. (1999). Cognitive psychology (2nd ed.). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.
[6] Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63 (2): 81–97.
[7] McLeod, S. (2013). Stages of memory: encoding storage and retrieval. Retrieved September 23, 2019
[8] Science Mag: REM sleep–active MCH neurons are involved in forgetting hippocampus-dependent memories
[9] The New York Times: Scientists Identify Neurons That Help the Brain Forget
[10] Berry, J.A., Cervantes-Sandoval, I., Nicholas, E.P., & Davis, R.L. (2012, May 10). Dopamine is required for learning and forgetting in drosophila. Neuron, 74 (3): 530-542.
[11] Izawa, S, Chodhury, S., Miyazaki, T., Mukai, Y., Ono, D., Inoue, R., Ohmura, Y., Mizoguchi, H., Kimura, K., Yoshioka, M., Terao, A., Kilduff, T., & Yamanaka, A. (2019, September 20). REM sleep-active neurons are involved in forgetting hippocampus-dependent memories. Science, 365 (6459): 1308-1313.
[12] Harvard Health: Exercise can boost your memory and thinking skills

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