The superior capability of chess experts largely depends on quick automatic processing skills which are considered to be mediated by the caudate nucleus. We asked whether continued practice or rehearsal of the skill over a long period of time can lead to structural changes in this region. We found that, comparing to novice controls, grandmaster and master level Chinese chess players (GM/Ms), who had a mean period of over 10. years of tournament and training practice, exhibited significant smaller gray-matter volume in the bilateral caudate nuclei. When these regions were used as seeds in functional connectivity analysis in resting-state fMRI, significantly enhanced integration was found in GM/Ms between the caudate and the default mode network (DMN), a constellation of brain areas important for goal-directed cognitive performance and theory of mind. These findings demonstrate the structural changes in the caudate nucleus in response to its extensive engagement in chess problem solving, and its enhanced functional integration with widely distributed circuitry to better support high-level cognitive control of behavior.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We would like to thank Xi-Nian Zuo and Zhiqiang Zhang for their useful comments on this study. We are also grateful for the interest and participation of all the Chinese chess grandmasters and masters, as well as the control volunteers. This work was supported by 973 projects 2012CB517901 and the Natural Science Foundation of China 61035006 and 90820006 .
- Caudate nucleus
- Chess experts
- Default mode network
- Resting-state functional connectivity
- Voxel-based morphometry