Thinking ... (flickr image by carf)
It is now well recognised that chess training in schools has beneficial effects on child cognitive performance. It is still quite puzzling why chess should have such a positive effect on verbal and reading skills (ie Stuart Margulies 1991, here), when the game is so visual in nature.
A recent study by Natacha Akshoomoff, Joan Stiles and Beverly Wulfeck from San Diego State University may give a clue as to how chess could improve language skills. The study in question - Perceptual Organization and Visual Immediate Memory in Children with Specific Language Impairment - was published in J Int Neuropsychol Soc, 2006 (full article here). It was previously known that children with specific language impairment have deficits on some nonverbal tasks. It was not clear, however, whether these were specific visuospatial defects or general deficits in processing. The results of this study suggest that children with language impairment have deficits on visuospatial tasks which may be more related to limitations in processing load and planning than of specific visuospatial processing deficits.
Abstract:A plausible hypothesis is that chess training in children may indirectly improve verbal skills by strengthening executive function / general processing through optimising visuospatial processing. This is just a hypothesis, but well worth testing.
Children with specific language impairment (LI) have deficits on some nonverbal tasks but it is not clear if these are related to specific visuospatial deficits or to more general deficits in processing strategies. Children with LI were given two visuospatial tasks that we have shown to be sensitive to strategyed use as well as specific processing deficits. In Study 1, children with LI (N=29, ages 6 to 12 years) perform significantly worse than typically developing children (N=26) on the Hierarchical Forms Memory task. In Study 2, children with LI (N=15; ages 9 to 12 years) performed significantly worse than typically developing children (N=40) on the Rey-Osterrieth Complex Figure task. Children with LI were less accurate and tended to use a fairly piecemeal (immature) strategy when copying the figure and were less likely to draw the core rectangle in a more integrated fashion during the immediate memory condition. These results suggest children with LI have subtle deficits on visuospatial tasks that may be more indicative of limitations associated with processing load and planning than of specific visuospatial processing deficits.
Baddeley's model of working memory: