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Men better at chess

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  • Ian Pitchford
    Men better at chess Jacquie van Santen ABC Science Online Wednesday, 1 June 2005 The battle of the sexes has spilled over into chess. In a novel approach to
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 1, 2005
      Men better at chess
      Jacquie van Santen
      ABC Science Online
      Wednesday, 1 June 2005

      The battle of the sexes has spilled over into chess.

      In a novel approach to testing gender differences in
      achievement, an Australian researcher has compared the past
      three decades of male and female international chess results to
      see if gender differences have diminished with changes in

      But the results of the study, by Dr Robert Howard from the
      University of New South Wales, may ruffle some female feathers.

      Despite changes in what society expects of women, access to
      opportunities to succeed intellectually, and other factors,
      women don't do as well in chess as men.

      Howard says his study, published in the May issue of the Journal
      of Biosocial Science, backs the idea that men have an innate
      ability to checkmate and win the game.

      Adult men have traditionally dominated at upper levels of
      intellectual achievement. For example, nearly all recognised
      geniuses have been male, and men have won more Nobel prizes and
      science citations than women.

      And there have been many explanations for this.

      One general view holds this is due only to social factors such
      as the 'glass ceiling', access to education and lack of female
      role models.

      Others hold the evolutionary psychology view that males
      predominate at least partly because of some innate differences
      that may offer some advantage, such as greater male

      But society has changed in recent decades and it was whether
      these changes are reflected in an intellectual domain such as
      chess that Howard wanted to study.

      Access to chess

      He studied chess because he says it is a meritocracy, namely
      because tournaments are open to all and players rise through the
      game based on their talent, it has objective performance
      measures, and there is good quality data over a long period.

      Howard compared performance ratings overall and results from the
      top 10, 50 and 100 players of each sex.

      Despite societal changes in the past 30 years, he found "large
      gender differences and little convergence".

      "The basic argument is that if there are not any differences
      between the sexes in the area of chess, we should be seeing a
      convergence, ie. more female high achievers. But we're not," he

      "It's all basically pretty much the same, with one or two
      exceptions. [Despite] female role models and much more
      opportunity we're seeing no convergence. We're still seeing a
      huge difference of extremes."

      Howard says the differences are not just due to different rates
      of participation. He says even proportionate to participation
      numbers the differences are "quite striking".

      He says his results rule out any 'glass ceiling' effect and lack
      of female role models as explanation for the differences.

      Instead, he says his results show that innate differences in
      ability between men and women, namely the evolutionary
      psychology view, could be one explanation.

      "However, I suspect it might be in many cases that women just
      don't get obsessed with things like men do. They don't want to
      spend all their waking hours studying chess and competing

      Howard is not clear if sex differences in visuospatial ability
      are important.

      "Probably only a threshold level of visuospatial ability is
      needed, beyond which general intelligence is more important," he

      "The top 10 females over the last few years have achieved very
      high ratings ... and many have achieved the grandmaster title as
      well, which requires good visuospatial ability, but are still
      greatly outperformed by the top 10 males."

      Howard says his research needs to be replicated in other games
      like bridge.


      Ian Pitchford PhD CBiol MIBiol
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