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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Are Girls Bad at Chess? No, but Stereotypes Affect: Scientific American Report

Hello everyone,

The Scientific American has published a well-written and surely must-read one on whether girls are bad at chess. The writer, Daisy Grewal holds a BA in psychology from UCLA and a PhD in social psychology from Yale University. She currently works at Stanford University as an applied researcher.

Grewal has built her articles around the premise of stereotypes influencing behaviour and ability. She writes, "Rothgerber and Wolsiefer surveyed 77 girls between the ages of 6 and 11 and found that the girls showed awareness of the stereotype that boys are better at playing chess than girls. The researchers then gathered and analyzed data obtained from the United States Chess Federation (USCF). The data included information about female players from elementary, middle, and high schools who had competed in twelve tournaments. To control for the possibility that all chess players, both male and female, perform worse when playing against a male opponent, the researchers included a comparison group of young male players."
To test for stereotype threat effects, the researchers needed a way to determine whether girls’ chess-playing ability matches up to their actual performance, when playing against boys. Fortunately, the USCF calculates “preratings” that measure the strength of each player, based on their previous chess performance. The researchers used these preratings to determine an expected winning percentage for each game played by a participant. This expected winning percentage was then compared to a player’s actual winning percentage for each game (100% for a win, 50% for a draw, and 0% for a loss). Because the formula for the expected winning percentage takes into account the preratings of both competitors, failure to achieve an expected win cannot be explained simply by having played against a stronger opponent.
The results showed that when playing against a boy, girls were less likely to achieve an expected win. However, this was only true when they were playing moderate or strong (but not weak) male opponents. Since stereotype threat is supposed to be most pronounced in challenging rather than easy situations, it makes sense that the girls were more likely to falter when playing moderately or very challenging opponents but not weaker ones.

You can read the original article at Scientific American.

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