Tag Archives: Dr. Andrea Dinardo

The Mozart of Chess & Brain Chunking

I may play you like a bishop, but I’ll treat you like a pawn with my Nordic Jedi mind tricks.

This story by Manoel Cortes Mendez titled “Learning from a Prodigy: The Science Behind the Feats of the Greatest Chess Player of All Time” has it all: a suave Scandinavian kid, chess, classical music references, the benefits of sleep, how to piss off Garry Kasparov, and so much more!

Called the Mozart of Chess by some, Magnus Carlsen is now seen by pundits as the greatest chess player to ever play the game. He was a Grandmaster by 13 years old and ranked No. 1 by the World Chess Federation by 19. The first time Carlsen played legendary Grandmaster Garry Kaspoarov, the sulky Russian eked out a draw, but stormed off stage because deep down he knew he had lost.

Anyway, there are many things I took away from this article, one of which is dedicated to Dr. Dinardo, who knows from her last post that there is a fine line between starving your distractions and feeding your focus when you want to learn in the most effective way possible. As Mr. Mendez, the self-described “software engineer, chess aficionado, and amateur writer,” puts it:

Indeed, research has shown that effective learning requires the brain to alternate between two complementary modes of operation: the focused mode and the diffuse mode.”

Here’s how he breaks it down:

“The focused mode involves concentrating intently on the task at hand. This mode is ideal for absorbing new information and kick-starting the chunking process. It is the mode students engage, or at least should engage, when they study a new subject.

The diffuse mode, on the contrary, involves relaxing the mind. We switch to this mode when we mentally walk away from any specific focus and instead let our thoughts wander. Sleeping or going for a stroll are prime examples of diffuse-thinking activities. It may seem counterintuitive to imagine that this type of mental state could contribute to the learning process, but as it turns out, it is an essential ingredient.”

I can hear the reader now saying, somewhat vociferously, That’s hunky-dory, man, but what about the friggin’ brain chunking? I wanna be chunking with the best of ’em!

“In neuroscience, the process that involves cementing little by little actionable bits of information into memory is called chunking. And that’s precisely what Carlsen does: he chunks chess moves. And as these chunks start building on one another, they transform into tactics; tactics that in turn become strategies; and strategies that ultimately almost always culminate in a checkmate.

Likewise, when we study a new subject, our brain tries to digest the information by converting it into mental chunks. But these chunks fade over time. In order to maintain them, we must revisit the material regularly. As the chunks are strengthened, we may space out our revision sessions further apart. With time and practice, chunks will find a permanent place in our long-term memory.”

Ultimately, the simple lesson from this piece comes down to the following for me:

“Carlsen encourages players to vary the conditions of the game. Play competitively and play for fun. Play online and play face-to-face. Play against people of different origins and with different playstyles. Simply put, seek diversity in chess.”

I’d like to say this is an excellent prescription for writing well (many of the finest authors write in a variety of genres), but the reality is that this applies to life, too. After all, variety, as they say, is the spicy spice of life.



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The Science of Stress


Psychologist Kelly McGonigal has some things she wants to tell you about stress – things that you, like me, have probably misunderstood up until now. Per the introduction for the TED Talk by Dr. McGonigal:

Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.

There were two things she said in this talk which resonated with me:

“When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage.”

“Chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort.”

Take 10 minutes out of your day and watch this TED Talk when you have a chance. She will help reshape the way you view stress from a scientific point of view. You will thank me later for linking to this video. Your future self will thank you when you don’t drop dead from a cardiovascular-related condition a year from now. And I have already thanked Dr. Andrea Dinardo for introducing me to this video.

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Are You an HSP?

Image result for a single flower

Those in the know will know I’m not referring to Hispanics, but in fact a highly sensitive person. Like a lot of things we’re still learning about inside that tricky brain of ours, there has been a lot of misunderstanding about this subject over the years. But there’s now a doctor in the house!

In her post titled, funny enough, “Are you a highly sensitive person (HSP)?“, psychology professor Dr. Andrea Dinardo explains that HSP is not a choice; it’s biological (she’s got cool pictures to back this up, too). As she puts it:

“Brain scans show that HSP’s have ‘heightened activity in empathy-related brain regions‘ including the anterior insula (insular cortex), highlighted in the brain scan below.


Definitely take time to visit Dr. Dinardo’s site, but if you’re curious whether you’re not just uber sensitive/hysterical/overly emotional, and actually HSP, check out the following self test:
  • Are you easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby?
  • Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time?
  • Do you make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows?
  • Do you need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room or some other place where you can have privacy and relief from the situation?
  • Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations?
  • Do you notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art?
  • Do you have a rich and complex inner life?
  • When you were a child, did your parents or teachers see you as sensitive or shy?


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