No, teaching your child chess will not make him a genius

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Everyone wants their children to be successful in school and all strategies are good at trying to maximize their chances. In the collective imagination, the game of chess would make children more smartbest in mathematics or in logic. This intuition is not without basis. Chess is a game that researchers classify as a cognitive game, that is, it requires a great deal of cognitive effort on the part of the participants. To become good at chess, it is necessary to develop skills such as concentration and attention, but also to acquire skills such as logical reasoning, calculation and movement pieces in the mental space. Moreover, several studies suggest that the game of chess could have such virtues. Problem: they are biased. A more methodologically robust study conducted in England suggests that knowing how to play chess does not improve specific abilities or skills outside of chess. Basically, this suggests that the transfer of skills from chess to the school environment is not working.

The problem with previous studies

In its preamble, an English study recalls the limits of the studies that have been carried out in the past and which have contributed to construction of the myth. First, most research reports correlations between playing chess and academic skills. These observational studies are plagued by the influence of confusing factors, but also by reverse causality bias. In other words, we can not say whether it is specifically failures that improve academic ability, because another factor may be associated with a good level of failure and high academic skills (typically the socio-economic level), or whether it may be the high academic level. skills that make a child better at chess. Second, most surveys have been conducted with very small sample sizes that do not allow statistical differences between the groups to be correctly detected.

Finally, the studies are generally performed in an experimental context, with tests performed at the end of the experiment, which is totally different from an educational environment and reduces the external validity of the studies. For all these reasons, researchers consider it necessary to perform one randomized trials on a large scale, with a sufficiently robust sample, in the classroom environment and using standard pedagogical tests as an assessment criterion one year after the intervention.

Playing chess does not improve school results

The study is categorical. Neither the results in mathematics, i reading or even in science improved by learning to play chess. How do you explain that the latter contradicts most of the previous results? The researchers suggest several possible explanations. The first concerns the sample size. In fact, the fewer people you involve in a study, the more likely you are to observe strong variations, which will affect indicators such as the mean and standard deviation, which are crucial in determining whether an effect exists. Therefore, the previous results were probably false positives or again a type 2 error in statistical jargon.

The second concerns the timeliness of the measured judgment criterion. As we have seen, the test in previous studies was done right after the intervention, while here we look at the effect on the evaluations one year after the intervention. The researchers’ study also focused mainly on students educated in institutions with a significant number of disadvantaged students, which may explain the results and reinforce the idea that the socio-economic variable plays a role.

What conclusions can be drawn?

While playing chess is unlikely to improve your child’s academic performance, there is no reason not to introduce them to practice. In fact, other parameters can potentially be favored by playing chess. Also, the pleasure we have from playing, just like the social relationships we weave in a club, can become positive on your child’s development. Therefore, if your child likes the game of chess and enjoys playing it, encourage him in his practice without expecting a paradigm shift regarding these school results.

What to remember

  • Previous studies, tainted with methodological biases, suggest that playing chess could improve children’s academic performance.
  • A more robust English study from 2017 contradicts these results. These were probably false positives.
  • Although chess does not improve school results, the enjoyment of playing can have positive consequences for the child’s development, as can the social bonds created in this way. .

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