Is Game Play Expertise Hardwired

Is game play expertise hardwired?

Maybe you have seen video games played and marveled at how fast the reactions times can sometimes be.  Maybe you have played these games yourself and wondered how you are able to make the “right” move sometimes before you even consciously think of what you want to do.  Perhaps it is board games like chess that you marvel at and the way some people always seem to know the “right” move to make.  How does the brain of someone who plays these games for a very long time seem to always know the right move?  How does the brain almost seem to foretell what is going to happen before it actually does.

In an Interview with Cosmic Log on MSNBC, Keiji Tanaka talks about this exact phenomena on how your brain picks just the right move.  Dr. Tanaka, who works for Japan’s RIKEN Brain Science Institute, conducted a study of a board game with a set of amateurs and a set of professionals. 

The experiment focused on both the amateur and the professional players being shown a board of a popular game called, “Shogi” and asked to set up the next move, while having their brain patterns studied by a Magnetic Resonance Imager (MRI).  As might be expected the brains of the professionals had a lot more activity.  This could possibly be expected, since the professionals might have a deeper understanding of the game and have a lot more variables to ponder while thinking of the “right” move.

The results of the experiments that were conducted by Doctor Tanaka show that the professional player has a much higher amount of connections to a portion of the brain called the Precuneus and the caudate nucleus.  Because of this higher activity when these players were asked to make instant and split second decisions on board choices, without having any time to plan, or they made the correct decisions with far more frequency, then activity in this section of the brain was far more active.

The question that this experiment raised is fairly simple; but important is game play expertise hardwired or does it grow those areas of the brain?  In other words do those professionals have increased brain activity in those sections of the brain because they are professionals and have exercised that area, or are they professional level because they have this area of the brain that is more suited to this quick thinking?  What came first, the chicken or the brain?