Life is never a bed of roses. Yet strong contacts and relationships is a key quality that may make you successful in your life.

You know it from your personal experience: when the right people show up, most of what you need will happen.

Relationships are everything, everywhere, in the real world among family members and friends, team members in sports and business, and even in physical systems, in such a way that the positions and other properties of objects are only meaningful relative to other objects (I even started writing on this blog about chess contacts, or relationships between chess pieces, how they connect and collaborate on the chessboard, and how to improve teaching and learning based on that understanding).

Friendships and relationships is what you need in life to become successful

The Chess Match, chess art by David Tobey

We have already seen in a previous post before that life of any complex system relies on spatial interconnections of the parts, and their functions, or roles toward a common aim of the system.

“Qualitative structure of the objects in an environment and the relationships between them define the composition of that environment, and allow for the construction of efficient plans to enable the completion of various elaborate tasks.”

To be successful, we need to “possess knowledge of how different objects in that environment are used, as well as how they relate to one another. The set of spatial relationships between objects is the glue which holds a scene together, and allows for differentiation between a set of items, and a structured environment.” Benjamin Rosman, Learning Spatial Relationships between Objects, 2011.

Let’s see how human brain sees and visualizes the spatial relations and gives it a meaning. Interestingly, the part of the brain responsible for face recognition is the major player here.

Chess and the Brain

Chess expertise changes the brain in a surprising way

If you were to investigate the brain of a chess expert, where would you look? Would you look in an area at the bottom of the brain, called the fusifrom face area (FFA), which is thought to be important for facial as opposed to object recognition? This does not sound like a region that would be involved in playing chess. Yet, in a recent article in the Journal of Neuroscience, several investigators used fMRI to monitor the activity of the FFA while subjects, both expert and casual chess players, viewed and interpreted the position of pieces on a chess board.

How brain works in learning

Chess Mind, chess art by Jason Peters

In all subjects, the FFA was activated to a greater extent when they viewed faces than when they viewed a chess board. No differences were seen between the experts and casual chess players. These results are consistent with previous research and with the important role of the FFA in facial recognition. When viewing chess stimuli, however, the FFA was activated more in experts than in casual players. Simply viewing a chess board with the pieces in the starting position created greater FFA activation in the experts. This difference in activation increased even further when the two groups were asked to analyze the position of chess pieces located on different squares on the board.

Why would an area of the brain devoted to the recognition of faces be activated in chess experts when they view a chess game? To recognize a face, we need to see more than the eyes, nose, and mouth. We must analyze the spatial relationships between all these features. Similarly, an understanding of the spatial relationships between game pieces is crucial for winning at chess. The FFA may be particularly good at recognizing global spatial patterns. Innate circuitry, present at or soon after birth, may bias the FFA to become a facial recognition area, and that role may be bolstered by our lifelong experience with viewing faces and the importance of facial recognition in everyday life. If another demand emerges, however, that requires expert, holistic, spatial processing, the circuitry in the FFA may be honed for that skill as well. Thus, the FFA is recruited by those who are experts at chess.

Our brain is highly adaptable and opportunistic. While certain areas may be wired, from infancy on, for specific functions and skills, novel demands and extensive experience can recruit and perhaps rewire those regions to allow us to develop expertise in all sorts of new and dramatic ways.

Source: Psychology Today
Published on July 21, 2011 by Susan R. Barry, Ph.D. in Eyes on the Brain

Susan R. Barry, Ph.D., is a professor of neurobiology in the Department of Biological Sciences at Mount Holyoke College and the author of Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist’s Journey Into Seeing in Three Dimensions (June, 2009).


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