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I can go from working hard on algorithmic programming a whole day, and feeling totally mentally exhausted, to playing chess. As far as I can understand, these two types of thinking should be strongly related.

My question is therefore, whether mental exhaustion is something real or is it just imagined, and instead is a question about boredom or loss of motivation? In other words, can mental exhaustion be measured?

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Is there some cite to back up the fact that "these two types of thinking should be strongly related"? I know plenty of people who're really good with algorithms but completely bad at Chess which would anecdotally disprove the link –  user5341 Jun 6 '11 at 19:44
@DVK No, I am sorry. This is just based on my completely incompetent guesswork. I assume that one needs to reach a certain level of experience with chess before one can really start utilizing the intelligence, so this might be an explanation. –  David Jun 6 '11 at 19:59
Stress isn't just about doing something that requires a given skill or aptitude. Playing chess can be destressing, especially if you don't have much invested in the outcome, and even if the bits of brain used are similar to the presumably stress-inducing algorithmic programming. –  DJClayworth Jun 6 '11 at 20:08
Good algorithmic thinking certainly helps with chess, but I doubt anything can replace diligent practice. That is, growth in your algorithmic skills doesn't necessarily translate to significant improvements in your chess skills. To my knowledge, you cannot be a good chess player unless you put a lot of effort into it. –  Mihai Rotaru Jun 6 '11 at 22:01

1 Answer 1

up vote 24 down vote accepted

Mental exhaustion (also mental fatigue, mental stress) is certainly absolutely real, and in no way related to boredom or loss of motivation. In fact the opposite is usually the case - many studies relate mental exhaustion to a perceived inability to perform a task that they really want to perform. A significant instance is RAF fighter pilots during the Battle of Britain, who were frequently (and understandably) found to have a high level of mental exhaustion. Even at this stage they had a high level of motivation, and frequently had to be explicitly ordered, against their own request, to take a break before their fatigue caused them to become ineffective.

Some studies on the subject:

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It is perhaps incorrect to say mental fatigue is in no way related to broedom or loss of motivation. See here. –  Sonny Ordell Feb 15 '12 at 7:04
That link appears to be about something different. –  DJClayworth Feb 15 '12 at 14:00
Not really. They're just using depletion to mean mental exhaustion/fatigue/stress. –  Sonny Ordell Feb 16 '12 at 0:51
Set up a chat if you want to talk about this more. –  DJClayworth Feb 16 '12 at 14:55

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