Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Neuroenhancers boost chess performance

If you are not already using coffee as a neuroenhancer, perhaps you should consider starting. As Dilbert creator Scott Adams says, "I feel sorry for people who don't drink coffee." Two to four cups a day ought to do the trick. Any more and you build up too much tolerance and get a paradoxical fatigue.

"A landmark study published in European Neuropsychopharmacology, the official publication of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, has found that there are two prescription drugs that seem to enhance chess-playing ability.
The drugs are methylphenidate, which is most commonly marketed as Ritalin (by Novartis), and modafinil, which is sold as Alertec, Modavigil and Provigil. The study also measured the effects of caffeine and found, not surprisingly, that it also had an ameliorative impact.
When adjusting for an unexpected side-effect of the drugs on decision-making behavior – paradoxically, that they made the subjects play slower — the study found modafinil improved the players’ performances by an average of 15 percent, methylphenidate by 13 percent, and caffeine by around 9 percent....
...The new study, which was conducted by 13 professors and researchers from several German universities and the University of Stockholm, is titled, “Methylphenidate, modafinil, and caffeine for cognitive enhancement in chess: A double-blind, randomized controlled trial.”
Methylphenidate and modafinil have been around for years – in the case of methylphenidate, since the early 1960s. Both are stimulants. Methylphenidate is commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), while modafinil is often used for narcolepsy and other sleep-related disorders.
Dr. Klaus Lieb, a professor of psychiatry and psychotherapy at the University of Mainz in Germany, and one of the study’s main authors, said that the researchers wanted to see whether people who already were performing at a high level mentally could have their performance enhanced through chemicals.
“There are lots of data showing that a subject in a sleep-deficient state or exhausted people do profit from an enhancer,” Dr. Lieb said. “We were really interested to show whether it is possible to show an enhancement effect, or a hyper performance effect in subjects who already perform at the top level of their cognitive performance.”
Dr. Lieb said that the researchers went into the study with the expectation that the stimulants would not show much benefit. “We primarily thought that it is not possible to enhance high cognitive tasks and were astonished to find such results,” he said.
Chess players were chosen as the subjects in part because several of the researchers play. (Harold Ballo, who works with Dr. Lieb, has a FIDE rating of 1981.) In addition, the fact that computers could be used as sparring partners and their strengths calibrated to equal that of the subjects made chess an ideal laboratory.
The study recruited 39 rated players (40 when it began, but one dropped out). Each player was given a series of neuropsychological tests and questionnaires and then asked to play against computers running the chess-playing program Fritz 12. In their games, the players had 15 minutes total for their moves, the computers had six. Before each set of 10 games, the players were given either methylphenidate, modafinil, caffeine, or a placebo. In total, 3,059 games were played over a several-week period.
The results contained one surprise: The amount of time that the players took in their games when they were on the stimulants increased, so much so that more games were lost on time when players were taking the drugs than when they had taken a placebo. That skewed the results. When those losses were factored out, leaving 2,876 games (or data points) the benefits of the drugs became clearer.
The study’s conclusion addressed the additional thinking time as a critical component of the effect of the stimulants. The authors wrote, “This suggests that neuroenhancers do not enhance the quality of thinking and decision-making per time unit but improve the players’ ability or willingness to spend more time on a decision and hence to perform more thorough calculations.”

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