December 29, 2008 in Everyday Science
Men's Chess Superiority Explained
A study published by the Royal Society finds that men's superiority over women at chess at the top levels can be explained by population size. Since many more men play, there's a wider range of abilities, meaning more individuals at the very top. Karen Hopkin reports.
Women are so much better than men at so many things. But according to a report published by the Royal Society, chess is not one of them. The topic of sex differences when it comes to matters of the mind is, needless to say, a divisive one. Those who wish to argue that women are just not as smart as men often point to chess as their proof. Although girls can obviously play, no woman’s ever been world champion. But before looking for cultural or biological explanations for the disparity, scientists say you need to do the math.
Serious chess players are assigned ratings based on their performance against other players. So the scientists compared the ratings of the top hundred male and top hundred female players from Germany. And they found that the men indeed outperformed the women. However that difference can be almost entirely explained by statistics. Because the larger the population, the wider the range of measured scores—the bell curve has a longer tail. And because many more men play than women, the best male players are extreme outliers on that bell curve. As more women play, a few should also reach those extremes, right out there with the men. To which one might be tempted to say: Checkmate.
Source: http://www.sciam.com (Scientific American)
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