Sunday, 4 January 2009

Are Men Superior To Women At Chess?


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Time is running out for the argument that men are superior to women at chess. One of the most recent examples of this chess chauvinism came from GM Levon Aronian when interviewed by Berliner Zeitung (translation of interview reported in chessbase news here). The research study by Waters, Gobet & Leyden (2002) "Visuospatial Abilities Of Chess Players" (posted here) concluded that for adults " ... visual memory ability, and perhaps visuospatial intelligence, may be relatively unimportant factors in the long-term acquisition of chess skill." This study has helped to remove one of the perceived explanations for male chess playing superiority

Now a recent paper by Merim Bilalić, Kieran Smallbone, Peter McLeod, and Fernand Gobet in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences suggests that 96% of the statistical difference in playing abilities between the sexes can be explained by the greater number of male chess players (Link). It is interesting that Gobet has been a author on both of these important papers. The new Bilalić et al abstract is copied below:
Abstract:
A popular explanation for the small number of women at the top level of intellectually demanding activities from chess to science appeals to biological differences in the intellectual abilities of men and women. An alternative explanation is that the extreme values in a large sample are likely to be greater than those in a small one. Although the performance of the 100 best German male chess players is better than that of the 100 best German women, we show that 96 per cent of the observed difference would be expected given the much greater number of men who play chess. There is little left for biological or cultural explanations to account for. In science, where there are many more male than female participants, this statistical sampling explanation, rather than differences in intellectual ability, may also be the main reason why women are under-represented at the top end.

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