Scientific research into the brain’s function during various types of activities has revealed the dramatic transformations the brain experiences when test subjects are studied while engaging in the game of chess. Among the findings of this research, which involved the use of imaging equipment to monitor brain activity while undertaking various tasks, was the rather unique chemical reactions in the brain to the mental challenge of playing chess, particularly at a high level. Chess is often used as a way of facilitating mental development in adolescents, as it engages the right side of the brain that would ordinarily not be used in many activities. Because of the many complex components of chess, for instance, the different ways pieces move, the strategizing and predictive elements, and the role of pattern-recognition, serious chess players use both sides of their brains when fully engaged in the game.
The mental focus required of chess can also have a calming influence on players. The level of concentration chess requires is used as a way of diverting the minds of individuals experiencing stress or anxiety away from the causes of the stress and anxiety and towards the action taking place on the board. The focus necessary to anticipate the opponent’s moves and develop strategies to exploit those moves engage the brain to such an extent that chess serves a means of diverting focus away from peripheral concerns. Consequently, hospital staffs sometimes use chess, and other mentally-challenging activities, as a means of diverting the attention of children away from their medical condition and towards more positive activities. Hospital social workers and therapists working with children undergoing procedures for serious medical conditions work with these young patients to help them better cope with their situations, and chess is one of the tools they use to accomplish that task.