The game of go and the brain

A group of Chinese researchers has studied go players using fMRIs. The experimental design had the subjects looking at an empty board, a board with randomly placed stones, and a real game position.

Two findings struck me. First, the researchers found players may be internally verbalizing their play.

Lateralized activity was also found in the left dorsal lateral prefrontal area (BA44/45): it was activated when the subjects carried out the GO playing task. Because left BA44/45 is usually involved in language functions, [2], this result suggests that the subjects may be verbalizing GO terms when they were playing GO.

Second, they found players may be imagining the actual physical motion of playing stones on the board.

The primary somatosensory and motor areas (BA3-1-2/4) were more active in the GO playing task. A possible explanation for this activiation may be that subjects were imagining that they were picking up stones and placing them on the game board int he process of finding out the next reasonable solution.

There are other interesting findings as well, such as a modest right lateralization in the parietal area as compared to chess, which they attribute to the heavily spatial nature of the game. They found activation in many other cortical areas, such as dorsal prefrontal, parietal, occipital, and posterior temporal areas.

Abstract of the paper, “A functional MRI study of high-level cognition. II. The game of GO”, is here . Full paper is here.

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