Brain doping works in chess

Doppled players win more games, but they need more time

Chess requires a complex interplay of mental achievements, yet brain doping seems to work. © pixabay
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Surprisingly effective: brain doping can actually increase the chances of victory in chess, as a study demonstrates. Contrary to previous assumptions, the neuro-enhancers methylphenidate and modafinil promote mental performance even in such a complex and challenging game - but extend the time for players to think. In the future, more frequent doping controls may be necessary before chess tournaments.

They are designed to keep you learning, to improve your memory and to strengthen your concentration. Means such as methylphenidate or modafinil are no longer only taken by the sick nowadays, but are also considered effective means for increasing mental performance - for brain doping. How much this neuro-enhancement really brings is controversial, but at least in some cases it seems to bring benefits.

Gedopt for the research

Whether and how brain doping works in chess play has now been studied by Andreas Franke from the University of Mainz and his colleagues in a study. The complex game makes high demands on the mental performance, because it requires creativity, concentration, strategic thinking, patience and a good memory. The question is therefore whether neuro-enhancers promote or interfere with the sensitive balance of these abilities.

For their study, the researchers administered 39 tournament chess players on four days either twice 200 milligrams of modafinil, twice 20 milligrams of methylphenidate (Ritalin), twice 200 milligrams of caffeine or two placebos. Neither subjects nor researchers knew who got what funds. After receiving the funds, each chess player completed 20 15-minute games against a chess program.

ADHD drug Ritalin (methylphenidate) © Public domain

More victories

The result surprised even the scientists. Contrary to their expectations, a chess player can benefit from brain doping under certain circumstances. The chess players who have previously been given methylphenidate or modafinil may need more time to think about their correct teeth than with placebo. However, they won more games within the 15-minute period than without the funds. display

"The results show for the first time that even highly complex cognitive abilities, such as those needed in chess, can be improved by stimulants, " says Franke. "Apparently the subjects are more likely to be able to reflect decision-making processes in depth under the influence of stimulants." However, the longer thinking time can also be detrimental: Dopied chess players were less able to decide their games within the time limit. In flash chess, neuro-enhancement would therefore be rather counterproductive.

Doping controls in chess?

These results are of far-reaching importance for future tournaments, but also for sports policy: "We have the first indications that doping in chess is possible through the stimulants methylphenidate and modafinil, " says Klaus Lieb from the University tsmedizin Mainz. However, he and his colleagues warn of the consequences of such neuro-enhancement and urge them to take steps to improve doping controls in professional chess.

This is also important for another reason: The World Chess Federation Fide has the ambition to make chess olympic and thus the players would have undergone regular doping controls anyway. The German sports subsidy also makes strict doping regulations and controls a condition for financial contributions. (European Neuropsychopharmacology, 2017; doi: 10.1016 / j.euroneuro.2017.01.006)

(University Medical Center Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, 27.01.2017 - NPO)