The Queen’s Real Gambit: NYU Unmasks Gender Bias in Young Chess Players

by Tatsuya Nakamura
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Gender Bias in Chess

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Title: NYU Study Reveals Gender Bias in Young Chess Players’ Potential

A recent study conducted by New York University (NYU) sheds light on the gender bias faced by young female chess players in comparison to their male counterparts. This bias is reminiscent of the portrayal seen in the popular miniseries “The Queen’s Gambit.” Despite these biases, the study finds that there is an equal willingness to invest resources in both genders.

Co-authored by a former US Chess champion, this NYU study unveils the obstacles that girls and women encounter concerning their perceived intellectual abilities in the realm of chess.

“The Queen’s Gambit” depicted the life of a fictional chess prodigy named Beth Harmon, who consistently faced underestimation in male-dominated chess competitions. A team of psychologists from New York University has now uncovered real-world evidence reflecting the challenges Harmon’s character encountered during her youth. Parents and coaches of young chess players tend to assess the potential of girl players as lower than that of boy players.

Furthermore, the study, led by Sophie Arnold, an NYU doctoral student, and supported by Jennifer Shahade, a two-time US Women’s Chess champion, reveals that coaches who believe “brilliance” is a prerequisite for success in chess also assume that their female mentees are more likely to quit the game due to perceived lack of ability, compared to their male counterparts. Interestingly, coaches and parents do not perceive a less supportive environment for girls in chess or that girls might be more inclined to quit the game as a result.

Chess, despite the inspiration provided by fictional characters like Beth Harmon, still struggles with gender underrepresentation in the real world. The study points to one contributing factor: the biases held by parents and coaches against female youth players.

In the US Chess Federation (“US Chess”), only 13% of players are women, raising questions about the root causes of this gender disparity. Previous studies often focused on potential differences in chess ability among girls, overlooking the role of adult guidance.

In contrast, the NYU researchers in their study explored how coaches and parents, significant figures in young girls’ lives, may harbor biases when assessing their potential, even at a young age. These biases may contribute to the significant gender gap in chess participation.

To conduct the study, the research team interviewed nearly 300 parents and mentors, with 90% of them being men, recruited through the US Chess Federation. They evaluated and reported on approximately 650 young players. Additionally, they questioned parents and coaches about whether they believed that success in chess required brilliance, a measure used previously by Cimpian and colleagues to detect gender bias in academic fields.

The study revealed biases against girls across multiple measures. Parents and coaches tended to believe that the highest potential ratings for female youth players were, on average, lower than those for male players. This bias was more pronounced among parents and mentors who thought chess success required brilliance.

Notably, these coaches and parents were unaware that their own assumptions might act as barriers to girls’ success in chess. Specifically, coaches who believed brilliance was essential for chess success also thought their female mentees were more likely to quit due to perceived lack of ability than their male mentees. Surprisingly, parents and coaches did not perceive gender-specific differences in the supportiveness of the chess environment or the likelihood of girls quitting the game.

However, there was a positive finding in the study. It revealed no bias in the resources, such as time and money, that coaches and parents were willing to invest in female players compared to their male counterparts.

This study, as the first large-scale investigation of bias against young female chess players, has significant implications not only for chess but also for fields like science and technology, which are culturally associated with intellectual ability and exhibit substantial gender imbalances.

For further details on this study, please refer to “The Gender Bias Game in Young Female Chess Circles,” published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Reference: “Checking Gender Bias: Parents and Mentors Perceive Less Chess Potential in Girls” by Sophie Arnold, Wei Ji Ma, Andrei Cimpian, April H. Bailey, and Jennifer Shahade, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 5 October 2023, DOI: 10.1037/xge0001466.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Gender Bias in Chess

What does the NYU study reveal about gender bias in chess?

The NYU study uncovers that parents and coaches tend to underestimate the potential of young female chess players compared to their male counterparts, mirroring biases depicted in “The Queen’s Gambit.”

What are the implications of these biases on female chess players?

These biases may pose barriers to girls and women in chess, affecting their perceived intellectual abilities and potentially discouraging them from playing the game.

How was the study conducted?

The research involved interviews with nearly 300 parents and mentors recruited through the US Chess Federation. They assessed and reported on approximately 650 youth chess players, examining biases in their evaluations.

Did the study find any positive aspects regarding gender bias in chess?

Yes, the study revealed that there was no bias in the resources (time and money) that coaches and parents were willing to invest in female players compared to their male counterparts.

Why is this study important?

It highlights a significant issue of gender bias in chess and raises awareness of the barriers faced by female youth players, shedding light on the need for more inclusive and supportive environments in the chess community.

Are there any recommendations based on the study’s findings?

The study emphasizes the importance of addressing and challenging biases against young female chess players to promote gender equality in the game and encourage more girls to participate in chess.

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