Chess Makes Kids Smarter
Chess lovers have long contended that chess should be a valuable classroom tool. It can provide an intellectually stimulating, rewarding activity, but it can also teach discipline, concentration, planning and all the other good things that go into successful chess.
In 1977, however, the National Institute of Education (NIE) argued against this position, saying in effect that good students and good chess players tend to be the same group simply because they are more intelligent and more intellectual than their classmates. NIE contended that transfer of skills is minimal, arguing that time spent on one skill detracts from the learning of another.
The Belgian study was the doctoral thesis of Johan Christiaen, titled "Chess &
Cognitive Development.'' It was a carefully controlled experiment with 20 students in the fifth grade in 1975, following them through the sixth grade the
next year. As might be expected of a foundation for a doctorate in psychology,
the test was carefully designed and executed, complete with a control group
and other features of good experimentation.
In the words of Harry Lyman, "Learning chess makes kids smarter in the classroom!" On 42 Friday afternoons, after school, Christiaen taught chess to 20 boys randomly selected from a group of 40. The other 20 were the control group, the one that would be compared. He did his best to keep these students ignorant of their experimental In testing after these two years, the chess, group scored some what better than the control group on various of Piaget's tests for cognitive development. More of a difference, however, was evident in their regular school testing! In the school testing, the chess group did significantly better in both the fifth grade tests and (somewhat less so) in the sixth grade tests.
Christiaen notes that some of this difference may be due to what Robert Rosenthal of Harvard calls the "Pygmalion effect.'' That is, teachers who may give special treatment to "special" students may get special results from those students.
On the other hand, classroom testing was supported by standardized testing administered by an outside agency, which did not know the identities of the two groups. On these tests too, the chess group performed better than the control group.
This study by Dr. Christiaen needs support, extension and confirmation. And other tests can be made too. For the moment, however, we have scientific support for what we have known all along - chess makes kids smarter!