# Does chess enhance cognitive abilities?

Some texts advise playing chess with children and mature people. Should I take them seriously, and why should chess boost intellect?

For instance, I would like to be able to read and understand technical texts quickly. Should I learn playing chess for this? In this text, for instance, they hype all kinds of advantages gained from chess, but they raise the meaningful questions at the end:

• Is there anything else besides playing chess that these GMs can be experts at?
• Granting these GMs were already genius by birth, is it safe to infer that playing chess has enhanced their overall intellect?

In the course of trolling, they conclude, "Go ahead and grab a chess board." This leaves me pondering if the effect they hyped indeed exists.

• There must be some spilover effects, I trained to become better at blitz chess, and simultaneouly got better at table tennis ... Nov 25 '20 at 0:07

Giovanni Sala was concerned by this same question, so he did a meta-analysis of 24 studies in "Beyond the 64 Squares: Does Chess Instruction Enhance Children’s Academic and Cognitive Skills? A Meta-Analysis" and found that there was still a lot of doubt in the results. Specifically, in all the papers, he never found the control group was reasonable. Of course children who played chess rather than doing nothing performed better at various tasks, as can be seen in "Enhancing Creativity in Children by Imparting Chess Training". But what about regular instruction or playing other games?

Consequently, he followed his meta-analysis up with a randomized plucebo controlled trial focused in mathematical cognitive skills in "Does Chess Instruction Enhance Mathematical Ability in Children? A Three-Group Design to Control for Placebo Effects" and found that the effect of chess, when compared to actual mathematics instruction (Control), was meaningless as shown in the tables below. However, it did surpass the game Go in transfer learning outcomes.

As he concluded at his talk at the CogSci 2016 conference (where all the papers I cited come from) which I attended, far transfer-learning is really hard. To improve skills in certain domains, it is better to study that domain than to hope a marginally related activity will grant insight. To make studying that domain easier, new materials need to be developed rather than searching for new related activities.

Note: This area is still under active research, as discussed in "The Effects of Chess Instruction on Pupils' Cognitive and Academic Skills: State of the Art and Theoretical Challenges"

• I see your answer to what about regular instruction or playing other games?. But your statement it was meaningless but did surpass the Go in learning outcomes is a bit fuzzy. Did you mean surpassing in meaninglessness or what? Aug 26 '16 at 11:36
• @LittleAlien I've added some tables from the paper as evidence for "meaninglessness" Aug 26 '16 at 14:27
• Seanny, I believe that meaninglessness has a strong evidence. I ask what does it mean? How it is possible that thing is meaningless but Go is more so? Aug 26 '16 at 14:31
• @LittleAlien I'm still have a hard time understanding your follow-up question. Would you mind rephrasing it? Aug 27 '16 at 20:14
• I do not understand what it means that chess are meaningless in the context of Go being less useful. If thing is meaningless it means that it is useless. If something has 0 utility, what is the point of saying that something else has even less utility? Aug 27 '16 at 20:24

I think learning to play chess will have no effect on your ability to understand technical texts. Your time would be better invested in reading the technical texts with accompanying explanatory material. This study by Sala, Gorini and Pravettoni (2015) shows that learning to play chess can improve mathematical problem-solving abilities in young pupils. They go into detail into how and why they think that is, as well as a comprehensive review of other studies that have been made. Many studies have found that chess players are intelligent - but the causality is seldom clear. Chess might simply attract intelligent people.

Reference: Mathematical Problem-Solving Abilities and Chess: An Experimental Study on Young Pupils by Giovanni Sala et al (2015, CC-BY licence).

No. In general, transfer between skills is minimal whether they be cognitive or motor. Thus, studying and practicing chess will make you better at chess.

Studying a technical field that you are trying to master will make you understand that technical field better.

In general, intelligence is correlated with interest and aptitude in intellectual activities. Thus, if anything, the causal relationship is that intelligence causes interest and aptitude in chess.

Furthermore, life involves opportunity costs. Thus, time spent playing chess, is time not spent studying your technical field.

• I do not have the references to back my statements up, but I believe there are context independent skills that can be learned from games such as chess, or any task for that matter. These context independent skills may help you learn other skills more easily. Obviously there must be some general overlap between those skills; You won't be a top-notch goal keeper by learning chess. Aug 24 '16 at 9:03