Why Kids Who Play Chess Outperform Their Clas...

Why Kids Who Play Chess Outperform Their Classmates - Part I
by Robert Sasata

Success at the strategy board game chess has long been considered an activity requiring superior mental abilities. What is becoming increasingly clear, however, is that chess can be used as a valuable tool to help develop various cognitive skills, especially in school-aged children.

This is the first in a three-part article that will present some scientific research about the value of chess in improving skills in traditional educational fields such as mathematics, science and language.

Several scientific studies have been published investigating the area of pattern recognition and recall between individuals of varying chess ability, ranging from master to novice. Evidence has shown that chess playing ability correlates strongly with recall of typical chess positions. When the chess pieces are arranged in random order, no such correlation exists. This indicates that memory is closely linked to the structure and relevance of the subject being recalled, and that the experienced chess player searches for familiar patterns and ideas.

Other studies have dealt with the more important issue of skill transference and the use of chess in facilitating the development of thinking and reasoning skills in children.

Christiaen Study

A study performed in Belgium in 1975 (later translated into English) was part of the doctoral thesis of Johan Christiaen ("Chess and Cognitive Development", 1976). He studied a group of 40 students for a two year period as they progressed through grades five and six to determine if chess playing could enhance their cognitive development. Much of this study focused on testing the theories of renown child psychologist Jean Piaget - in particular, his theories on cognitive development. Piaget holds that an intellectual maturation occurs between the ages of approximately 11 and 15. During this stage, the child moves beyond physical trial and error and begins hypothesizing and deducing, developing more complex logic and judgment. In Piaget's terms, the youngster moves from the "concrete" stage to the "formal" stage of intellectual development.

In Christiaen's study, half of the students were given chess instruction after school, while the other half received none. Several tests were conducted to evaluate the cognitive transition to formal operational thought processes from the preceding level of concrete operational thought processes. When the students were tested for this transition, slight but not significant improvement was seen in the group receiving chess instruction. However, significant improvement in academic performance at the end of each of the two years of the study (end of grade 5 and grade 6) was noted for the chess group in comparison to the non-chess group. Clearly, the group receiving instruction in chess had somehow gained an academic advantage over the control group not receiving chess instruction.

To read about more evidence on how chess can improve your children's scholastic abilities, check out the next part of this article series, entitled "Why kids who play chess outperform their classmates - part II".

About the Author

Robert is a chess coach with over 20 years of teaching experience and has been master ranked chess player for even longer. To learn how to play chess and more about this intellect-enriching board game please visit Rules of Chess.