Researchers have found an explanation for why thinking hard makes us mentally tired – NRK Trøndelag

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Hard physical work makes us tired, but what about hard mental work?

The American writer Wallace D. Wattles once said the following in the nineteenth century: “Thinking is the hardest and most tiring of work…”

Perhaps he was right.

At least if we are to believe the results of a new European study. Here, researchers have found that there is a link between mental fatigue and negative changes in our brain.

The study was published in current biology.

The chemistry in the brain has changed

Wanting to understand the root cause of mental fatigue, researchers from Switzerland and France recently conducted an experiment. They divided 40 people into two different groups.

One consists of people working on challenging tasks that require a great deal of thought. The other group solved relatively simple cognitive tasks.

using a method called Ms The researchers analyzed the chemistry in the participants’ brains.

The results showed, among other things, that people who spent more than six hours on challenging tasks had higher levels of glutamate in the brain. Glutamate is a signaling substance, and high values ​​​​for it can disrupt various functions.

Toxic byproducts accumulate in the part of the brain that we call prefrontal cortex (Thinking brain).

Refuting old theories

Previous theories assumed that this mental fatigue is a kind of illusion formed by our brain. That this causes us to stop what we are doing, so that we can instead focus on something positive, Matthias Besiglione says:.

He is a researcher at the University of Pitié-Salpêtrière in Paris.

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– But our findings show that cognitive work actually leads to a TRUE. honest. core Career change. composition of harmful substances;

So he believes that this fatigue is rather a signal that makes us stop working because our brain needs rest. So you can work optimally again. Rest, among other things, should be essential to restore the correct levels of glutamate.

As an example in their study, the researchers used professional chess players.

– Empty and Empty

When you’re done with a real training session, it’s easy to see that the efforts have begun. The flowing sweat is quite revealing. When someone says they are mentally tired, you have to believe they are telling the truth. There is little visual evidence.


If you study chess players, you can probably see the hint.

In the study, the authors wrote that professional chess players most often make mistakes four to five hours after a game. These are mistakes they would rarely make if they rested.

Long, demanding games definitely make me tired, I think most chess players know that. Here’s what Joachim B. Nilsen tells NRK. He is the president of the Norwegian Chess Federation.

Joachim B. Nilsen thinks the new research is exciting. But although the game of chess is very demanding, it is believed that the game has positive effects in terms of the ability to focus and strategic thinking.

Photo: Norwegian Chess Federation

Classic chess in particular is so demanding, says Nielsen, it’s a bit like taking a test.

The game requires concentration. It is a good training in terms of tactics, strategy and memory, and therefore it can stimulate several areas of the brain. However, it does require focus to play at your best in a long game or a full course.

A professional chess player describes the feeling of mental exhaustion as a kind of emptying, one becomes empty and a bit exhausted.

– Maybe I personally felt that way after the party. Along the way, it’s not unusual to get so immersed in the game that you can forget about time and place.

Can mental endurance be improved?

The researchers behind the new study believe this is an important aspect of the study, but they don’t want to draw any conclusions yet. They now hope animal studies will help them move forward.

Neuroscientist Antonius Wheeler participated in the study. He hopes they can get better answers about how to recover quickly from mental exhaustion.

It would be great to learn more about how to restore your glutamate levels. Is sleep beneficial? And how long should a break have a positive effect?

Neither researcher believes mental endurance can be improved, but proper rest means you can get back on the hooks faster.

chess pieces

The game of chess can last for many hours, and over time players make more mistakes. Chess at a professional level is a huge cognitive load.

Photo: Berit Roald / NTB scanpix

Dalila Awolowo

Dalila Awolowo

"Explorer. Unapologetic entrepreneur. Alcohol fanatic. Certified writer. Wannabe tv evangelist. Twitter fanatic. Student. Web scholar. Travel buff."

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