Learning Lab

Could you be a genius?

By Amy Brann

About a year ago I had the privilege of meeting a grand champion chess player who was supporting the initiative in Belize teaching children to play chess. They were finding it had a dramatic impact on the behaviour of the children inside and outside school.

Years ago we believed that things like being a genius or being exceptional at chess were genetically determined and something you could do nothing about. Now we understand much more.

Taking chess for example, we now know that when a grand master plays chess their frontal and parietal cortices are activated. This implies that long-term memory is involved. When skilled amateurs play chess their medial temporal lobes are activated. This implies that coding of new information is taking place. What the grand master has done is, over a period of at least 10 years, storing every snapshot of play. Then when they come to play they simply need to recall the snapshots of what the best move to make is. They are seeing plays way in advance.

Unfortunately learning a whole lot of sequences wouldn’t in itself make you a chess champion because the second key also would need to be brilliant. In addition to getting the sequences into your head you would need an excellent strategy for storing those in your brain and then retrieving them when you need them.

So what about becoming a genius in another field? Well the news is the same, the ability to store huge amounts of data in your long term memory and the ability to retrieve that information when you need it.

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