Chess education in children reduces their risk aversion

by Albert Silver
9/10/2021 – Professor Wang-Sheng Lee co-authored the paper "The Effects of Chess Instruction on Academic and Non-cognitive Outcomes". This was *not* yet another paper to attempt to link academic success (ex: math scores) with chess education. Instead, the goal was to study the potential benefits in developing 'soft skills' such as risk aversion, patience, and creativity. A video interview that should not be missed.

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In a recent edition of the Journal of Development Economics, a new article came out called, "The Effects of Chess Instruction on Academic and Non-cognitive Outcomes: Field experimental Evidence from a Developing Country"

What really stood out was the choice of focus. At the words chess education, you would be forgiven for assuming this was yet another paper trying to prove or disprove the possible link between it and school grades, but this was not the case. Instead the authors Asad Islam, Wang-Sheng Lee, and Aaron Nicholas set out to investigate the latent benefits they might offer such as risk preference, patience, time preference and creativity. While all these are traits chess players regularly associate with the royal game, they are not usually the subject of published papers and research. The goal was to improve the citizenry by helping hone these 'soft skills' from a young age, and by extension, pave the way for a brighter economic future that is powered by them. 

Of all the 'soft skills' measured, the one that stood out the most clearly was the reduction of risk aversion. This isn't to suggest the children were now embarking on a new wave of hair-pulling recklessness. On the contrary, the ability to better assess the risks in situations, and of course the payoffs, led to more informed decisions and a greater willingness to take calculated risks, a lesson that chess had inculcated in the spades.

This brought to mind one of the earliest quotes and texts to so clearly draw a parallel between chess and life, by none other than Benjamin Franklin in 1786.

A quote that is used in the paper itself and is one of the references cited therein. The paper is well worth reading and examining, and can be found at the university.

Link to PDF of the article

Professor Wang-Sheng Lee was kind enough to do an interview in which he reveals he is more than a casual chess player, though is indeed a PhD in Economics, and explains some of the revelations that came from the field study.

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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