Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"Sex Differences in Intellectual Performance"

The December 2006 issue of Psychological Science has an article by NM Christopher F. Chabris and NM Mark E. Glickman titled "Sex Differences in Intellectual Performance: Analysis of a Large Cohort of Competitive Chess Players" (follow the links on the right for the full text), which concludes that "the greater number of men at the highest levels in chess can be explained by the greater number of boys who enter chess at the lowest levels." One interesting finding: they examined ratings data for over 13 years in the USCF computers, charting both rating performance and location by zip code. In zip codes where boys dominate, they tend to improve much more quickly than girls. Where girls have nearly equal participation rates (and there are actually a few places in the U.S. where that is so), they improve at roughly the same rate initially.

For an interesting discussion of the findings, see Jake Young's post at the Pure Pedantry blog titled "Participation explains gender differences in the proportion Chess grandmasters," where he notes the following:

"I am going to make an analogy to make this data make more sense. Why does it seem like the US has substantially fewer good soccer players than the rest of the world? We clearly have good athletes. We play other sports well. We train athletes just as well. Why do other countries do so much better?

The answer is that when you are a good athlete in the US, you do not play soccer. You end up playing something else like football or basketball. The difference in performance is related to a difference in participation.

This data strongly argues that the difference in performance of women in chess is also a problem of participation. The problem is not that women can't play chess well. The problem is that enough women who play chess well are not choosing to play chess."

2 comments:

Tom Chivers said...

Football is soccer!?

Btw, I think JH Donner nailed why women don't play chess much back in the 70s (who needs science...), asking:

"what is so deeply objectionable in the game of chess that women, the crown of creation, are incapable of playing it well?"

Simply that, Donner writes, "games are the opposite of human contact."

Carrying on:

"During their game, chess players are 'incommunicado'; they are imprisoned. What is going on in their heads is narcissistic self-gratification with a minimum of objective reality, a worldess sniffing and grabbing in a bottomless pit. Women do not like that, and who is to blame them?"

Wahrheit said...

Good one, Tom. I read the entry on the "Pure Pedantry" blog, and the comments, and thought most people miss the point--if there are sex-linked differences in the brain (pretty darn certain of that), they seem to be of the type that make a smaller number of women want to play chess (see Donner's colorful description!), so it's doubtful to me that participation will ever match up between the sexes.

Everyone should have the opportunity to learn and enjoy chess, but I don't legions of girls are going to get into it seriously.