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Re: [evol-psych] Gender imbalance in chess, music, and math

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  • Joao Sousa
    ... There is an old and strange theory about this sex imbalance in chess, put forward by Reuben Fine, chessplayer and psychoanalyst. He says that chess is all
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 2, 2003
      >Judit Polgar, No. 13 in the world overall, is proof of this. She is
      >nine years older than Miss Kosteniuk and a far stronger player. But
      >she is also an anomaly: Out of the world's top 100 ranked players, she
      >is the only woman.
      >Some reasons for this disparity may lie in the brain.

      There is an old and strange theory about this sex imbalance in chess, put
      forward by Reuben Fine, chessplayer and psychoanalyst. He says that chess
      is all about castration and castration anxiety. The King would symbolize
      the phalus, and to support this Fine remarked that the King is remarkably
      fragile in the game of chess (its range as a piece is low, and the game is
      lost if the King is checkmated). He also remarked that young boys learn to
      play with their fathers and the father appears as the first opponent to
      suplant, so the game would be an "Oedipian struggle". He remarked also the
      sometimes very high anxiety suffered by a player about to lose, or after
      losing, and he related it to castration anxiety. So to win would mean to
      castrate the father/opponent, and to lose would be to be castrated. As
      these themes are very masculine, Fine says this explains why there is a so
      great sex imbalance. I don't think very much of this decidedly
      psychoanalytical theory but mention it here just because someone could be

      Of course, sex imbalance happens in so many human activities... Certainly
      Fine's theory can't apply to them.

      >"It's controversial, but there is some body of scientific literature
      >showing a male superiority for nonverbal, visuo-spatial skills"
      >involved in chess, says Dr. Lee D. Cranberg, a neurologist at Harvard
      >Medical School.
      >Chess requires the ability to visualize what the board looks like
      >several moves in the future — a skill involving the right hemisphere
      >of the brain. Verbal and linguistic abilities, on the other hand,
      >reside mostly in the left hemisphere.
      >While visualizing a series of moves is important, even more crucial is
      >the ability to recognize patterns among the near-infinite arrangement
      >of pieces.
      >"With a glance at the board, top players will recognize a pattern from
      >games they've studied or played," Dr. Cranberg says. "If you look at
      >speed chess, especially, these players are not analyzing sequences of
      >moves; they don't have time for that."
      >Researchers estimate that a male grandmaster has, in his memory
      >stores, 50,000 patterns of unique configurations. Pattern recognition,
      >it seems, is at least half the battle.

      However, pattern recognition in chess is never the recognition of an unique
      configuration, because, after the end of opening, in the middle game,
      virtually all positions are unique. The important thing in pattern
      recognition is "qualitative" aspects of a pattern that are common to many
      unique configurations (e.g. a weak pawn exposed in an open column). These
      "qualitative", "evaluative", "strategic" aspects are what makes Kasparov
      still have a chance facing Deep Blue: he analyses qualitative patterns,
      Deep Blue just calculates millions of positions per second. But still, Deep
      Blue doesn't need to be inferior in this regard forever: it's just a
      question of good programming...

      >While many females excel at right-brain tasks — as proven by Mrs.
      >Polgar, 26, and her two sisters, Susan, 33, and Sofia, 28, also
      >world-class players — such women seem to be exceptions.
      >This is also true in music composition and mathematics, two other
      >fields relying heavily on the right brain. Knowing which combination
      >of musical notes completes a score or which equations complete a
      >theorem, Dr. Cranberg says, is pattern recognition.
      >The mystery is far from settled: Despite circumstantial evidence
      >pointing to a "chess mind," as Dr. Cranberg calls it, others are quick
      >to note cultural factors.
      >Chess is, after all, a formalized war game, where each side has an
      >army. It's no secret that boys more than girls are socialized to be
      >soldiers and to direct armies.

      Yes. But not only that. They are also socialized to dominate, to fear
      domination, to win, to win, to win, to win, more and more. Chess is much
      about that.

      >"Women didn't play chess in any great numbers and didn't get training
      >until very recently," says Dr. Charles Krauthammer, a psychiatrist,
      >political columnist and chess player. "Until that is equalized, that
      >factor will make it hard to say whether there is a different aptitude
      >for chess.
      >"You do see a similar male-female imbalance with great mathematicians.
      >Again, that could be a cultural imbalance; studying math was long
      >considered unladylike.
      >"If you look at the male-to-female ratio of great composers, it's also
      >overwhelmingly male," Dr. Krauthammer says. "And it's hard to argue
      >that women are discouraged from music. That ratio in music is becoming
      >more even, but it's still not 50/50."
      >If men do have an edge at right-brain tasks, there are a few popular
      >explanations. One theory suggests it begins in the womb.
      >Though no solid answer is available, some neurologists have proposed
      >that testosterone produced by the male fetus slows the development of
      >its own left hemisphere and the right brain overcompensates in its
      >development. In female fetuses, testosterone is less present, and the
      >two hemispheres develop at a more even pace.
      >Supporting the role of the right brain in chess is the unusual number
      >of chess players who are left-handed. As basic anatomy teaches, the
      >left hand is controlled by right brain, and vice versa. Being
      >left-handed may signify the right brain is more dominant, Dr.
      >Cranberg says.
      >In the late 1980s, he carried out a study of amateur and master chess
      >players. His conclusion: Male chess players were almost twice as
      >likely to be left-handed as the general male population.
      >Average left-handedness in the general male population is between 10
      >percent and 13 percent. But Dr. Cranberg found that 18.6 percent of
      >male players were left-handed. However, he was not able to gather
      >a large enough sample of female chess players to perform a similar
      >Human Nature Review http://human-nature.com
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      João Dinis de Sousa
      Independent Scholar
      Rua Actor Vale 49 4ºEsq
      1900-024 Lisboa
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