The brain is by far the most powerful and most complex organ in the body. One of the most studied areas of the brain relates to the way we learn and retain new information, particularly in adolescents due to the constantly changes taking place in the brain at that time. In order to understand the ways in which chess can enhance cognitive learning, one must first understand the nature of cognitive learning. From there, it is possible to draw direct correlations to the various components of chess in order to examine the benefits it can provide.
Defining Cognitive Learning
The concept of cognitive learning stems from the evolution of several different schools of thought in regards to explaining the way in which we retain new information. Building upon the concepts within Gestalt psychology and responding to the claims of behaviorism, cognitivism posits that that the act of thinking is a wholly separate and unique process that draws upon the summation of our experiences and observations. The brain takes in information and analyzes it to create learned concepts and ideas, constantly processing the details while you are awake, asleep or even before you take a nap. As such, cognitive learning refers to the process of cataloging and processing new information based on our observed experiences and actions.
To put this in more relatable terms, cognitive learning is the belief that everything one sees and does influences what one actually learns, which in turn directly influences a person’s behavior and personality. Chess serves as a positive influence within this context of learning because it is, at its core, about observing ones environment, drawing connections between complex actions and retaining the information for use in the future in different ways.
Examining Chess as a Teaching Tool
The first phase of learning involves paying attention to a subject, which allows the person to take in details about the situation in order to translate them to broader concepts within the mind. Chess involves a great deal of focus and attention to play, and is even engaging from a spectators perspective. One needs to examine the board to understand the positioning and possible moves of all pieces at all times, which helps the brain enhance its ability to absorb details and form a chain of cause and effect.
The next phase involves the transition of the observed actions into short term memory, and eventually long term memory. Throughout this, the brain deconstructs the information in the memories to draw conclusions from the events, which is the essence of learning. In a game of chess, a player must analyze the moves of their opponent to identify possible strategies and plan a counteroffensive. After each match, the player can analyze each move to understand the best and worst decisions of each participant, either cataloging new maneuvers for future use or correcting mistakes by pinpointing the moment of error.
Chess encourages the brain to draw in more information, hold on to it more completely and perform deeper analyses of the data in order to draw more complex and nuances conclusions to improve future actions.