Formation Magazine
Volume One
1 November 2013
Issue One


In Depth

Does Go Provide Cognitive Benefit?

D. Cooper Stevenson

Players who sucessfuly play the game employ localized thinking, overall board strategy, and the relationships between the two. They must also conceptualize their goals, create a plan, and carefully plot each step to achieve their intent. Go is difficult enough were the player to achieve his goals from the safety of knowing his opponents plans. The opponent's ideas, however, are often elusive (sometimes deliberatly) and give urgency to the endeavor. Each participant must conceptualize and execute his plan to further his goals while having an opponent who is trying to do the same to him. Succinctly, our player's opponent will not simply watch passively and clap with each move.

Does the game, even given it's requirements for intense concentration, really improve cogniscience? Can the game really enable those who play to take more into consideration, formalate plans, and achieve goals?

Go changes minds, literally.”

While most of the supporting evidence availabile today is anecdotal, several studies of various kinds show varying degrees of results.

A study performed by the Department of Psychiatry, Clinical Cognitive Neuroscience Center, et al. entitled, Exploring the brains of Baduk (Go) experts: gray matter morphometry, resting-state functional connectivity, and graph theoretical analysis displayed clear differences in brain structure between the Baduk experts and novices. Go changes minds. Literally.

The study examined the brain structures of seventeen Go experts having at least 12 years of experience with sixteen statistically matched (age, sex, education, etc.) players relatively new to the game.

The paper found significant differences between the brains of the experts vs. the novices. What was most interesting, perhaps, was that not only were certain areas of the brain different, but the interconnections of the brain showed different proportions between the experts and the control. The researchers discovered a greater mass of interconnectivity tissue (white matter) connecting several areas of the brain.

'MRI comparing Baduk Experts and Novices'

The results also revealed that trained Go players develop increasted cognitive neural activity in the areas of the brain related to spacial perception, attention, working memory, executive control and problem solving.

The findings also show increased abilities among the experts in the regions related to visuospacial processing. The Go players could more accurately perceive the board and the spatial relationships among the stones. Visuospacial processing is also responsible for tracing a player's steps across the board and asses each stone group's relationships to each other.

So, can Go really help one's cognitive awareness? Studies seem to suggest that it can in the sense that the game trains the mind to better focus on the player's environment, consider a wider array of possiblities, and formulate plans to reach the desired outcome.