- The research team led by Professor Jun Soo Kwon, SNU College of Medicine, reported a research result that the game of ‘weiqi’ has enormous influence on the structural plasticity of the brain.
- The structure of the brains of professional ‘weiqi’ players shows that different areas of the brain are more closely related to each other and the routes of information transmission are well developed.
A local research team identified for the first time that ‘weiqi’, traditional game from the ancient time of Northeast Asia including Korea, has enormous influence on the structural plasticity of the brain.
The research team (1st author: Boreom Lee, Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology) led by Professor Jun Soo Kwon, Department of Psychiatry, SNU College of Medicine, identified the fact that long-term training of ‘weiqi ‘have influence on the white matter structural changes of related brain functions through the research on brain imaging. The research result will be covered in the August edition of Neuroimage, famous magazine on brain imaging.
The research conducted in cooperation with the Korea Weiqi Association was set out to identify differences in brain structure and functions between ordinary people and the Association's young professional weiqi players and trainees trained for more than 10 years.
The study selected 17 young weiqi players (average age: 17, 14 men and 3 women players) and carried out experiments on them, including diffusion-tensor image, one of MRI images, for a year starting June 2007. The subjects all participated in weiqi training from their childhood and had about 12-year experience in training. Of them, 9 were professional players and the others researchers.
Diffusion-tensor imaging is the latest imaging technology of brain structure to have a naked-eye view of white matters playing as a route to transmit information by connecting all areas of the cerebral cortex in charge of high-level cognitive functions.
The research team identified, through the analysis on diffusion-tensor images, that mutual connectivity of different regions including the frontal lobe, the limbic system, and the sub-cortex in the brains of weiqi players were more developed than those of normal people. These regions are very important to exercise major cognitive functions such as concentration, working memory, execution control ability, and problem-solving ability and the research result suggests that information transmission between such regions takes place more effectively in the brains of people with weiqi training.
In addition, white matter changes in the temporal lobe identified in the group of weiqi players is a typical characteristic of masters trained for a certain technology for a long term. Normal people store memories piece by piece but professionals store the whole of patterns in the temporal lobe. In other words, weiqi experts keep, in a memory reservoir, game patterns specialized based on various experiences acquired through long-term training and take them out in a strategic and efficient manner.
Further, weiqi experts were found to have the frontal lobe-subcortex region of the right brain, usually processing non-verbal, spatial, and time information, more developed compared with normal people. This suggests that weiqi experts are trained to exercise time-spatial information processing ability quickly and efficiently through repeated weiqi training. Also, the fact that the white matters in the right hemisphere of the cerebrum was relatively more changed than in the left hemisphere reflects that the major tasks of the game of weiqi are related to spatial characteristics.
"The outcome of this research is expected to contribute to in-depth inspection on the structure and functions of the human brain. The outcome is likely to help to improve educational goals for brain development and treatments of various disorders related to cognitive functions," said Professor Jun Soo Kwon.
His research team currently conducts the analysis on working memory tests using functional MRI and the analysis on neuropsychology tests in parallel in order to examine the influence of long-term weiqi training on functional brain changes. Such research is expected to explain the plasticity of brain functions and the process of cognitive functions based on weiqi training in a more comprehensive and succinct manner.