Saturday, February 07, 2009

Women are as good as men at chess

New paper out today suggests the top men are better than the top women because the population of male players is so much larger than the population of female players.

Bilalić, Smallbone, McLeod, Gobet (2009). Why are (the best) women so good at chess? Participation rates and gender differences in intellectual domains. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London (B), 276: 1161-1165.

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.


Blogger Vincent said...

I love it when scientists waste taxpayers' money publishing articles that answer self-evident questions.

Who really thought it was biological or neurological?

2/07/2009 05:59:00 PM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

If chess is about programming the brain it is hard to imagine that there would be a difference. Having my ass kicked by 13 yo girls doesn't incline to change my mind about that too:)

2/08/2009 01:58:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Vincent: Ever heard of sociobiology or evolutionary psychology? These are mainstream, and tend to say things are genetically based differences in performance. The President of Harvard said he thought fewer women made it in science because of genetics.

Tempo: Yes, losing at table one in the last round of a tournament to a 12 year old girl reinforces that I am not superior :)

2/08/2009 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger BlunderProne said...

I've got both of you beat. My version of "cindy-lou who", my personal nemesis, is only 11 years old and NOW rated over 1800. I am not worhty ( yet)

2/08/2009 01:48:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Note someone emailed me pointing out one possible flaw with the study--there could be a selection bias that can explain why there are fewer girls/women that play chess in the first place. Perhaps they just aren't as good to begin with! The authors try to address this by showing that women drop out of chess at the same rate as men. But this is complicated so doesn't quite resolve the issue.

We should be careful of dismissing ideas just because they go against our biases, and also of agreeing with ideas because they conform to our biases (both mistakes are examples of confirmation bias). I am agnostic on the chess issue, but tend to err on the side of conclusions that don't say that one sex or race is intellectually superior to another.

I discussed this stuff some in the comments here (comment 11).

2/08/2009 10:15:00 PM  
Blogger From the patzer said...

What happened to the conclusion that woman are more social then men?

Afterall its an annoyance when a baby cries for men while woman want to pick up the baby and nursery the baby to death eueueh i mean to silence.

2/09/2009 04:22:00 AM  
Blogger cofresi said...

Crying babies are annoying for women too. But they will do something instead of just standing around like idiots pretending they don't know what to do.
That's probably another reason more men are in chess.

2/10/2009 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger CW said...

Interesting read. Having also had my ass handed to me by 14 year old girls, this study is just noise.

2/10/2009 03:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My "experiences with women" include 2 losses to 2000+ ones, one of them 14-15 years old, they both played at the last Olympiad (at least I lasted 30+ moves) and a draw with WFM, which I am still proud of.

2/11/2009 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger Polly said...

Is it a matter of numbers and percentages. Let's say you have 100 men and 10 of them are grandmasters. You have 10 women and 1 of them is a grandmaster. 10% of the respective genders are grandmasters. I don't know what the true percentage is. In the USCF I think the perecentage of female members is around 10 to 15%. I would say a good portion of those females are children. Yes I've had little girls kick my butt too. It's not just the boys.

2/11/2009 02:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To say there are biological gender differences (esp. related to intelligence) nowadays is very uncomfortable, except if you're in the Taliban.

Even if men were proved to be better than women in chess, it wouldn't comment on overall would just be an activity that is handled by men better for some biological reason.

In contrast to other readers' experiences, my only loss to a female has been Polly. (Written with the recognition there are females much better than me.)

2/17/2009 12:46:00 PM  
Blogger takchess said...

Greetings takchess

2/20/2009 08:50:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

this was a poorly exacuted experiment, however a fantastic question. It cannot be denied that there are allot less women who play. That alone is interesting. Matter of fact most games that involve higher levels of strategy and logic are not enjoyed by majority of women (Risk,Stratigo,Go,ect). Not to say they are not capable, the majority just seems to not be interested.

4/04/2009 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Vincent: what was poorly executed about it? They did a good job, and pointed out limitations in their discussion.

These kind of boundary conditions are key. What distribution at the top levels would we expect, given that there are ten times as many men as women in chess? Having a sound answer to that is a necessary condition of further rational discussion, it seems.

Of course we could ask why boys tend to go into chess more in the first place (I brought this up at the other site), which becomes the new key question.

4/04/2009 12:58:00 PM  

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