The epitome of genius and madness?

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc5 3. Bc4 Bc5. What for some people seems to be a random combination of letters and numbers is the logical development of six pieces on 64 squares for others. Some of you might even see the pictorial representations of this scenery and recognize the many advantages and disadvantages that it has to offer. And perhaps one is already planning further. 4. c3 Nf6? 4. b4 Bxb4? 4. Nc3 Nf6? I’m talking of course about chess. A game with origins that date back over 700 years. A game that played a crucial role in the cold war and perhaps stands for something similar like Albert Einstein in our society, the epitome of genius. But Einstein was more than just the genius par excellence who revolutionized the laws of physics. Einstein was also this wacky short guy with messed up white hair who married his cousin. He was also some kind of crazy. The connection of genius and madness is deeply rooted in our minds and at least in chess this doesn’t seem to be entirely wrong either. There is a long list of chess grandmasters who struggled with some kind of mental illness. The first world champion, Wilhelm Steinitz, was convinced that he could move chess pieces using electromagnetic currents. He died on August 12, 1900 in a psychiatric ward. Paul Morphy felt persecuted and insinuated that his brother-in-law wanted to poison him. And the legend of the chess miracle Bobby Fischer also ends in the seclusion of society. So, it is no coincidence that the protagonist of the successful Netflix series “The queen’s gambit” is portrayed as a genius on the chessboard but with far-reaching psychological problems. But can chess really lead to insanity?

One can easily see from where this assumption comes from, chess is a nerve-wracking thing! You sit across from each other for hours, trying to comprehend your opponent’s plans and find the right moment for the decisive attack. But you have to be careful, every move can lead to victory or misery. And since computers are able to calculate in every situation the best possible move, the awareness of this has risen. The goal is clear; every player wants to find the perfect next move. The cognitive theory of perfectionism sees this claim as a possible cause for excessive mistake rumination, for example over a lost game, rumination in general and social comparison. This can lead to stress that has a negative impact on our health (Flett, Nepon & Hewitt, 2016). But not only thinking about chess can cause stress. The physiological reaction while playing a game suggests a stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. Troubat, Fargeas-Gluck, Tulppo and Dugué (2009) studied the heart and respiratory rate of 20 male chess players and found a significant change during the game. Now all these facts tell us how chess could possibly influence our health and well-being, but this isn’t a necessity. The personality of elite man chess players doesn’t even differ from the population norm. Only the skill correlates with introversion. Stronger male players are more introverted, while there was found the opposite pattern in female players. In contrast to their male counterpart, female elite players are more satisfied with life, have fewer physical complaints and higher achievement motivation in comparison with the female population norm (Vollstädt-Klein, Grimm, Kirsch & Bilalić, 2010). And the connection between genius and madness is untenable in chess too. There is indeed some kind of connection between chess and intelligence. Burgoyne et al. (2016) found significant correlations between chess skills and fluid reasoning, comprehension-knowledge, short-term memory and processing speed. But this doesn’t mean a skilled chess player with high scores in these areas has to develop a mental disorder. In fact, a low IQ is associated with mental disorders, not a high one (Mortensen, Sørensen, Jensen, Reinisch & Mednick, 2005).

So, don’t let a Netflix series spoil your enjoyment of chess with the fear of going crazy. In the end, the important part for your mental wellbeing is with which attitude you play, not if you do it. Perhaps settle down in a park where all the old folks play, take your time for a little chat between the moves and don’t take your mistakes too seriously. Or in other words, after 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc5 3. Bc4 Bc5., the “Italian Game”, go for d3, the “Giuoco Pianissimo”.

  • Burgoyne, A. P., Sala, G., Gobet, F., Macnamara, B. N., Campitelli, G., & Hambrick, D. Z. (2016). The relationship between cognitive ability and chess skill: A comprehensive meta-analysis. Intelligence, 59, 72-83.
  • Mortensen, E. L., Sørensen, H. J., Jensen, H. H., Reinisch, J. M., & Mednick, S. A. (2005). IQ and mental disorder in young men. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 187(5), 407-415.
  • Flett, G. L., Nepon, T., & Hewitt, P. L. (2016). Perfectionism, worry, and rumination in health and mental health: A review and a conceptual framework for a cognitive theory of perfectionism. Perfectionism, health, and well-being (pp. 121-155). Springer, Cham. 
  • Troubat, N., Fargeas-Gluck, M. A., Tulppo, M., & Dugué, B. (2009). The stress of chess players as a model to study the effects of psychological stimuli on physiological responses: an example of substrate oxidation and heart rate variability in man. European journal of applied physiology, 105(3), 343-349. 
  • Vollstädt-Klein, S., Grimm, O., Kirsch, P., & Bilalić, M. (2010). Personality of elite male and female chess players and its relation to chess skill. Learning and Individual Differences, 20(5), 517-521. 
  • Psychology Random Researches (2021, January 24). Can chess lead to insanity? [Video]. YouTube. 
Featured image :
  • Cortez, V., (2006). Schach. Retrieved from:

Author : Max Frutiger


The many faces of hallucination

Are you wondering about this strange picture I chose for this week’s blog? Well, you should because this picture isn’t less than a magical artifact, capable to let whole camels disappear. Just close your left eye, focus on the target with your right and move towards your screen. And Hocuspocus and Abrakadabra the camel is nada! Did you see it disappear? I hope so because this means your optic nerve leaving your eyeball creates an area where photoreceptors are absent. This results in a blind spot which is perfectly normal. But the interesting part is not that this exists, it’s the psychological reaction to this anatomical problem. It’s the filling in of this blind spot with visuals of the surrounding so we don’t even notice it in our daily life (Durgin, Tripathy & Levi, 1995). So, the reason we don’t see a void stain when we close an eye is that our brain creates an unreal image without the presence of an external stimulus. It’s hallucinating.

When talking about hallucinations most people think about psychedelics like LSD or Psilocybin. But these drug-induced states are just a small part of a much bigger picture. Hallucinations can occur without any external substances involved. In mental illnesses like schizophrenia, patients report hallucinations in various sensory systems. They can be olfactory, visual, tactile, auditory, or gustatory and the patients often experience them in more than just one sensory system (Goodwin & Rosenthal, 1971). On one hand, this makes sense because all our sensory areas in the cortex are neuronal strongly connected but on the other hand, it also seems that patients have individual connectivity patterns which would explain predominant hallucinations in one sense, most of the time visual or auditorial (Amad et al., 2014). But also, an imbalance in neurotransmitters, mostly dopamine and serotonin, seem to play a major role in schizophrenia. An imbalance that is known to cause hallucinations in other diseases like Parkinson’s syndrome (Stahl, 2016). All of these just mentioned hallucinations have a clinical background even though healthy people are just as capable of producing these illusions. All you have to do is to skip sleep for some nights (Waters, Chiu, Atkinson & Blom, 2018). Sleep and hallucinations seem to be related anyway in some kind of way and I’m not talking about your ordinary dreams. Those affected by sleep paralysis, which by the way would deserve an article on his own, report about vivid hallucinations of mostly frightening creatures like ghosts and shadow creatures. They are often seen by the sleeping person in the same room as they are, sometimes even touching them or sitting on top of their victim (Cheyne, Rueffer & Newby-Clark, 1999). Interestingly, a possible cause in the serotonin system is also discussed here, as is the case with hallucinations in schizophrenia (Jalal, 2018). But one does not need an unusual amount of a neurotransmitter to perceive things that aren’t really there. Sometimes the lack of a sensory information also causes hallucinations, as seen in the Charles Bonnet syndrome. Mostly elderly, visually impaired people see colorful pictures of people, faces and animals while being completely aware that these images are not real. And even if these scenes are mostly perceived as very entertaining and not threatening at all, there is often a fear of the associated stereotype. Those affected are afraid of being labeled as mentally unfit even though their cognitive function is faultless (Menon, Rahman, Menon & Dutton, 2003).

The list goes on and on. Sensual deprivation and sensual overload, prescription and unprescribed drugs, mentally ill and sane, young and old, hallucinations are omnipresent! And while there are still many unanswered questions about how they arise, we can already learn a lot from them about perception in general. Why we see our world the way we do. And most importantly, how individual this view is.

Bibliography :
  • Amad, A., Cachia, A., Gorwood, P., Pins, D., Delmaire, C., Rolland, B., & Jardri, R. (2014). The multimodal connectivity of the hippocampal complex in auditory and visual hallucinations. Molecular psychiatry, 19(2), 184-191.
  • Cheyne, J. A., Rueffer, S. D., & Newby-Clark, I. R. (1999). Hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations during sleep paralysis: neurological and cultural construction of the night-mare. Consciousness and cognition, 8(3), 319-337.
  • Durgin, F. H., Tripathy, S. P., & Levi, D. M. (1995). On the Filling in of the Visual Blind Spot: Some Rules of Thumb. Perception, 24(7), 827–840.
  • Goodwin, D. W., & Rosenthal, R. (1971). Clinical significance of hallucinations in psychiatric disorders: a study of 116 hallucinatory patients. Archives of General Psychiatry, 24(1), 76-80.
  • Jalal, B. (2018). The neuropharmacology of sleep paralysis hallucinations: serotonin 2A activation and a novel therapeutic drug. Psychopharmacology, 235(11), 3083-3091.
  • Menon, G. J., Rahman, I., Menon, S. J., & Dutton, G. N. (2003). Complex visual hallucinations in the visually impaired: the Charles Bonnet Syndrome. Survey of ophthalmology, 48(1), 58-72.
  • Stahl, S. (2016). Parkinson’s disease psychosis as a serotonin-dopamine imbalance syndrome. CNS Spectrums, 21(5), 355-359. doi:10.1017/S1092852916000602
  • Waters, F., Chiu, V., Atkinson, A., & Blom, J. D. (2018). Severe sleep deprivation causes hallucinations and a gradual progression toward psychosis with increasing time awake. Frontiers in psychiatry, 9, 303.
Featured image :
  • Joachim Herz Stiftung. (2021). Experiment zum Blinden Fleck. Retrieved from:

Author : Max Frutiger



When a friend showed me his new song a couple of years ago, I couldn’t stop wondering about the strange title; “Hikikomori”. If I had listened to the first verse instead, I might had guessed the meaning behind it. “Screaming but you can’t hear ‘em. No TV shows will be appealing. Four walls, no doors, one ceiling. The hikikomori feeling.” (Naj, 2018). He was telling his listeners about the mysterious circumstances under which an increasing number of the population in Japan live their daily life. 

The Japanese term “hikikomori”, which describes a person, originates from the verb hikikomoru. It contains the term “to pull back” (hiku) and “to seclude oneself” (komoru) as a description of the behavior shown by the hikikomoris. These mostly young men withdraw themselves physically and psychologically from society by locking themselves into their room for at least six months, avoiding as much direct human contact as possible. Even if this behavior intersects with other mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or social phobia, in this case at least a part of the trigger seems to be rooted in our modern way of life. Often hikikomoris feel under pressure by a society where performance means everything. They drop out of school or quit work to spend their time alone at home reducing all activities outside to the absolute minimum. This ranges from 2-3 interactions with others outside per week to less than one per week. Here comes another key-factor of our modern world into play, the internet. In these times where nearly all our needs can be satisfied online, what is the reason to go out? We interact with others in chats or games, find sexual satisfaction in pornography and order food online. Financially, they are often supported through their parents who are worried and ashamed of their children. Especially in a country with a collectivist culture like japan, being or supporting a hikikomori comes along with a strong stigma. So, it is not surprising that hikikomori and their families need support to deliver them from their suffering. In Japan there are various forms like “meeting spaces” for hikikomoris, telephone consultation and job-placement support, mainly organized through community support centers and mental health welfare centers. (Kato, Kanba & Teo, 2019)

Now, hikokomoru was most of the time seen as a Japanese phenomenon bound to the mentality and culture of the country but in the last decade, more and more similar cases all over the world were reported (Kato et al., 2012). And just recently an employee of a psychiatric youth institution told me about hikikomori like behavior of some patients. I personally think we as a society should be aware of this problem our modern way of life can cause. Because out there in the anonymous world of delivery services and apartment blocks, there may be living someone who has withdrawn himself into seclusion and could use help.

Bibliography :
  • Naj, (2018). Hikikomori. Retrived Ferbuary 10, 2021, from
  • Kato, T. A., Kanba, S., & Teo, A. R. (2019). Hikikomori: Multidimensional understanding, assessment, and future international perspectives. Psychiatry and clinical neurosciences73(8), 427-440.
  • Kato, T. A., Tateno, M., Shinfuku, N., Fujisawa, D., Teo, A. R., Sartorius, N., & Kanba, S. (2012). Does the ‘hikikomori’syndrome of social withdrawal exist outside Japan? A preliminary international investigation. Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology47(7), 1061-1075.
Featured image :
  • G., Genaro. (2019). Hikikomori, un disagio da contrastare. Retrieved from:

Author : Max Frutiger


Hypnagogia – The strange place between two worlds

Have you ever wondered how the molecular structure of benzene was discovered? Or what was the source of Salvador Dali’s creativity? Since you are visiting the website of the umbrella association of swiss psychology students I assume you’re more interested in psychology than chemistry or art, so probably not. But I’m going to tell you this ordinary story anyways because it is more connected to the depths of human consciousness than you might think. 

Since the mid 19th century, the German chemist August Kekulé has been concerned with molecular structures, particularly in organic chemistry. Today he is considered the father of the structural formula that enables every chemist to quickly recognize how the molecule of a substance is built up. But one particular molecule gave him a headache. The structure of benzene remained a mystery to him, until one day he fell asleep on top of a Londoner bus. In a dozing state he saw dancing atoms spinning in a circle. But when the conductor’s call tore him out of his dreams, he couldn’t do anything with this vision. It was not until the winter of 1861 when he fell asleep again in front of the fireplace that he realized that benzene had to be arranged in the form of a ring. Half awake, half asleep, he saw again these dancing atoms but this time also a Ouroboros, a snake biting his own tail (Anders, 2003).

Around a hundred years later, an eccentric enchants the art world. Salvador Dali’s drawings show grotesque faces and people, geometric figures like waves and circles and all of this in strange landscapes. Surrealism is celebrated around the world for its sheer inexhaustible creativity. And to make sure that his creativity doesn’t suddenly wane, the Spaniard has developed a technique that guarantees him new inspiration. During “slumber with a key”, as he called the technology, you sit down on an armchair with a heavy key between the index finger and thumb of your left hand. An inverted plate is placed under the armrest beforehand so that the key is directly above it when the arm is placed on the armrest. Now comes a phase of relaxation. The user makes himself comfortable in his armchair and surrenders to sleep. Coupled with it is muscle paralysis, which makes it impossible to hold on to the key. It falls directly on the plate and makes a loud noise. The person who has just fallen asleep returns to the waking world. Thoughts and images that were experienced in this state of consciousness must now be recorded immediately before they fade. It is not known how many and which works of art Dalis were created using this technique. The urgent recommendation on his part to colleagues to use this intellectual resource suggests that it was part of a routine of the Spaniard (Nielsen, 1992).

You may have already experienced the phenomenon that these two stories connect with each other. Hypnagogia, as it is known, is an altered state of consciousness that occurs during the transition from the waking state of consciousness to sleep and differs from dreams, which are often associated with the REM phases, in the short duration and the fact that the person does not perceive himself as acting or asleep. Acoustic, kinesthetic and optical hallucinations often occur during the hypnagogic state. They express themselves by hearing senseless sentences or melodies, seeing colors and flashes of light or feeling floating (Dittrich, 1996). A topic that receives little attention in comparison to dreams or waking consciousness, even though it would deserve it if one considered the prominent followers of this state. So next time when you start dozing off, you may want to draw your attention to the breathtaking scenery that opens up to you. Who knows, it might even make you a famous chemist or artist.

Bibliography :
  • Anders, R. (2003). Wolkenlesen. Über hypnagoge Halluzinationen, automatisches Schreiben und andere Inspirationsquellen. Greifswald: Wiecker Bote.
  • Dittrich, A. (1996). Ätiologie – Unabhängige Strukturen veränderter Wachbewusstseinszustände. Ergebnisse empirischer Untersuchungen über Halluzinogene I. und II. Ordnung, sensorische Deprivation, hypnagoge Zustände, hypnotische Verfahren sowie Reizüberflutung. Berlin: Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung. 
  • Nielsen, T. A. (1992). A self-observational study of spontaneous hypnagogic imagery using the upright napping procedure. Imagination, Cognition and Personality11(4), 353-366.
Featured image :
  • Salvador Dali. (1937). Le Sommeil. Retrieved from:

Author : Max Frutiger

current directions

The thing with time

During the night the first snow of the season fell over Bern and Mariah Carey is slowly creeping up the charts. Without a doubt, we are heading towards Christmas. Or is Christmas getting closer? That corresponds to the question Claudia Hammond (2012) asks the readers in her book “Time Warped”. If the meeting on Wednesday must be moved two days forward, when is the meeting? There are two different but equally correct answers to this question. It depends on a person’s view of the future and the perception of time itself. If you arrive in the office on Monday for the scheduled meeting, you see time in a permanent flow. Therefore, the future is an event which moves towards you. If you find yourself at the office on Friday, you perceive yourself in motion through a stationary timeline. You are moving towards the future. This thought experiment is just one example of how different we deal with the concept of “time”.

Our understanding of time is shaped by many aspects. On the one hand, culture plays an important role in how we imagine time. In our western Society time is often visualized as a line with past events on the left end, the present in the middle, and future events on the right end. This picture is also used in the English language. We look forward to something in the future and look back at past events that are behind us. These horizontal metaphors are also used in Mandarin. But unlike in the English language, there are also a lot of vertical metaphors in Mandarin, such as “shàng (‘‘up”) and xià (‘‘down”) who are used to talk about the order of events. Earlier events are “up”, and later events are said to be “down”. This may be the reason or origin of the fact that Mandarin speakers are more likely to visualize time as a vertical line with the past on top and the future on the bottom (Boroditsky, Fuhrman & McCormick, 2011).

But we not only visualize and talk about time in different ways, our perception of time also differs depending on the person. Children with ADHD perceive time differently than children without ADHD. They are less able to estimate how much time has really passed and answer a 12-second reproduction task earlier than their peers. Even if this is only the case in the millisecond range and more studies are needed, it seems that the time for children with ADHD is passing faster (Smith, Taylor, Warner Rogers, Newman, & Rubia, 2002). On the other hand, depressed people experience exactly the opposite. Even though they are able to accurately estimate the time, they seem to experience a slow passage of time on an individual level (Thönes, & Oberfeld, 2015).

One last aspect we should consider is the situation. People who survived a life-threatening event often report that time seems to have moved in slow motion. Could it be that such an intensely emotional moment enables us to speed up our inner clock and act faster than we normally do? Stetson, Matthew and Eagleman (2007) thought it was time to find an answer to this question and threw some people off a 31-meter tower. So, if you think this one time you participated in a study was bad, think again. Sadly, their dedication did not pay off. They found no evidence of increased temporal resolution even though participants retrospectively estimated their own fall to last 36% longer than others’ falls. They suggest that time-slowing is a function of recollection, not perception.

In summary, one can say that time is something very individual. We experience it differently, depending on where we were raised, who we are and in which situation we are currently in. And even if we might not be able to slow it down, we can still use it smartly. For example, by getting the Christmas presents early this year. Because in the end it doesn’t matter if Christmas is getting closer or we are heading towards it, you will have to get them anyway.

Bibliography :
  • Hammond, C. (2012). Time wrapped: unlocking the mysteries of time perception. New York: Harper Collins.
  • Boroditsky, L., Fuhrman, O., & McCormick, K. (2011). Do English and Mandarin speakers think about time differently?. Cognition118(1), 123-129.
  • Smith, A., Taylor, E., Warner Rogers, J., Newman, S., & Rubia, K. (2002). Evidence for a pure time perception deficit in children with ADHD. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 43(4), 529-542.
  • Stetson, C., Fiesta, M. P., & Eagleman, D. M. (2007). Does time really slow down during a frightening event?. PloS one, 2(12), e1295.
  • Thönes, S., & Oberfeld, D. (2015). Time perception in depression: A meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 175, 359-372.
Featured image :
  • Kia Abell. (2004). Clock. Retrieved from:

Author : Max Frutiger

student life

Learning by dreaming

Every good student knows that he should learn complex theories for his exams by repeating them constantly over several months, even though a glimpse in the overcrowded libraries one night before the exams proves that most of us don’t actually do that. But who am I to judge right? Learning, as we students know it, is often boring and exhausting. First, you have to fight to get a spot in the library, then you have to successfully ignore all the coffee-break requests from your buddies and by the time you start getting productive, it is already time for your lunch. One could now argue that you can start working after your lunch break, but as we all know you’ll get sleepy after eating so you take a nap. And after a nap you need a coffee. And after your coffee-break at 4 o’clock there is barely any reason to open your laptop for two more lousy hours. This scene describes a typical problem faced by students all around the world. But what if I told you that there are other ways to learn?

You don’t have to sit at a table for hours to learn. Most athletes learn while doing the exact opposite. Through repeated execution of movements they gain knowledge and control over their bodies. This is the so-called physical practice (PP). Although it is the most common way for athletes to learn and improve their skills it is not the only way. Mental Practice (MP) is also a well-established part of the training of athletes. They visualize a certain situation and the related movement before they actually move (Suinn, 1997). Or how Jack Niklaus, one of the most successful golfers, would put it: «I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head» (Niklaus, 1974, p. 79). Since this kind of practice works without any physical movement you can do it anywhere and anytime, even in your dreams! Well, provided that you have control over them which is exactly the definition of lucid dreams. In this rare condition which occurs mostly in the REM-Phase of sleep, you know that you are dreaming. Not only does this allow you to move freely through the landscape of your subconscious, but you can also influence it. This basically means that you can go to bed and when you’re getting lucid, create your individual learning environment and start practicing. In 2016 Stumbrys, Erlacher and Schredl compared the outcome of this lucid dream practice (LDP) with PP, MP and a control group in a field experiment. 68 individuals were asked to memorize a sequence of five numbers by pressing four keys on a computer keyboard as quickly and accurately as possible. After that, they went to bed and all participants, except for the control group, trained this task in different ways during the night. The MP group by visualizing, the PP group by performing and the LDP group by dreaming. The morning after, they repeated this task and the results were compared to the data from last evening. And indeed, they all made significant progress compared to the control group. 

Learning by dreaming? This is literally a dream come true, right? Well there are a few points to consider before you hop in your bed to learn for the next exams. First of all, even though it seems possible to learn lucid dreaming, only 5% of the population has at least one lucid dream per week (Schredl & Erlacher, 2011). Secondly, there were no significant differences between the groups which indicates that LDP is not superior to the other forms of practice. And thirdly, you can only recreate something in your dreams if you have a memory of it. So, there is really no way around it, at some point you have to sit down and learn these psychological theories before you can recall them in your dreams. 

So, what is the conclusion on LDP? It is a unique technique to learn and improve skills while sleeping. Particularly people who want to practice under special circumstances have the possibility to create a perfect learning environment without putting others or yourself at risk (e.g. surgeons, athletes etc.). Nevertheless, I doubt that you’ll pass next semester without some old-fashioned learning session in your local library. But now you have at least a good excuse for your next visit at the sleep room in the university. When your colleagues give you a judging look because you leave the table to take a nap, just tell them you will continue learning in your dreams.

Bibliography :
  • Niklaus, J. (1974). Golf my way. New York: Simon & Schuster. 
  • Schredl, M., & Erlacher, D. (2011). Frequency of lucid dreaming in a representative German sample. Perceptual and motor skills112(1), 104-108.
  • Stumbrys, T., Erlacher, D., & Schredl, M. (2016). Effectiveness of motor practice in lucid dreams: A comparison with physical and mental practice. Journal of Sports Sciences, 34(1), 27-34.
  • Suinn, R. M. (1997). Mental practice in sport psychology: where have we been, where do we go?. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice4(3), 189-207.
Featured image :
  • Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, (2004, December 12). Fat man and little boy. Giphy.

Author : Max Frutiger