RIKEN, Fujitsu Ltd. and Fujitsu Laboratories Ltd., in cooperation with the Japan Shogi Federation, held a symposium November 23 to discuss the results of their ongoing joint research into brain activity of shogi (Japanese chess) players, a project they have been pursuing since April 2007. The symposium, titled ‘Results of research into activity of the brain while playing shogi,’ was held at the Museum of Emerging Science and Technology in Odaiba, Tokyo.
Participants in the symposium included Tsuneo Kawatsuma of Fujitsu Ltd.; Kunio Yonenaga, the president of the Japan Shogi Association; Keiichi Sanada, a highly ranked professional shogi player; Yoko Yamaguchi a team leader at RIKEN’s Brain Science Institute (BSI); three other researchers from BSI; Masao Ito a special advisor to BSI; Keiji Tanaka, the acting director of BSI, and Ryoji Noyori, the president of RIKEN.
The project aims to clarify the mechanism of information processing in shogi players’ intuitive thinking, and thereby shed light on rapid perception and decision-making in the human brain. The researchers use functional magnetic-resonance imaging (fMRI) and brain-wave imaging to analyze both professional and amateur players and compare their brain activity. They have found that the professionals have unique brain activity that the amateurs lack, which accounts for their special intuitive way of playing.
Among other findings, the researchers have clarified for the first time that the renowned powers of intuition of professional shogi players’ are due to the development of ‘intuition circuits’ in their brains, a result of many years of playing the game.
In one experiment, the players were shown both standard and random arrangements of shogi pieces. The professional players demonstrated rapid brain wave responses, indicating that they noticed the difference between the standard and random arrangements, much faster than the amateurs.
There were other reports related to intuition and the players’ ability to react immediately through instinct. The researchers theorized that the cerebellum, known to be involved in motor control, should be also involved in instinctive thinking to operate unconscious model-based thought processes. An fMRI experiment based on this hypothesis is under exploration.
These results are still preliminary, since the project is ongoing, but they give an indication of some of the advancements waiting to be made in the field of human expertise. By elucidating the mechanisms of intuitive thought in shogi players, researchers are furthering our understanding of the human brain.