Alternative MethodsConventional Methods

Women Chess Players Are Not Affected by Stereotype Threat Effect
Apr 30, 2018

Grace Armstrong
Core Spirit member since Dec 24, 2020
Reading time 2 min.

Over decades, scientists have documented differences between women and men in performance in domains such as mathematics as well as racial differences in performance on a number of tasks. The core issue that’s raised by these observations is if they signify sex- or race-established differences in the capability to execute the job, or if they reflect another variable (such as a difference in the chance to learn the task or differences within a motivational component which affects job performance).

One motivational element that’s been studied extensively is stereotype threat. The notion behind stereotype danger is that if you’re a member of a team for which there’s a negative stereotype associated with a task, you might underperform on tests because of your awareness of the stereotype. For instance, there are demonstrations in the lab that women underperform on tests of their math ability relative to men in most scenarios where gender is made salient.

Stereotype threat was studied largely in lab circumstances. Reviews of the literature which look across studies are blended in whether they find persuasive evidence for stereotype threat effects, although many meta-analyses find at least a small stereotype threat effect.

Another method to estimate stereotype threat is to search for actual data sets. Many years back, for example, we did such an analysis for choking under stress in basketball, discovering that professional ballplayers shoot worse than their season average when they have the chance to tie the game with a free throw toward the end of the game.

A paper by Tom Stafford in the March 2018 issue of Psychological Science examined data from more than a half million games of tournament chess.

Chess is a fascinating domain to study for two reasons. First, most chess players are men, and the very best chess players on the planet are men. So, that sets up conditions under which stereotype threat is potential. Second, tournament players receive a numerical measure of their performance under the Elo system, therefore there’s a numerical means to compare the goodness of the players in the game.

To evaluate the baseline chances that a participant would win a tournament game, the author examined games played exclusively by men. He looked at just how likely a player could win a match predicated equally on if they were playing the white or the black pieces (there’s an advantage to playing white because that player moves first) and on the difference Elo scores of the players. As you may anticipate, since the gap in Elo scores of the players goes up, there’s a higher likelihood that the participant with the higher score will triumph.

Next, the author looked at matches involving a man and a woman. He compared the proportion of games won by women based on the difference in Elo scores involving the players to the anticipated percent of games in the baseline I explained previously. If there’s a stereotype threat effect in chess, then you may expect that women would win fewer games against men than the baseline would predict. This could be most powerful when there’s the biggest difference between women and men in their scores.

In reality, the opposite is true. On typical, women win more matches compared to the baseline when playing against men. If anything, subsequently, there isn’t a stereotype threat effect. There may even be a small stereotype lift.

Obviously, there are a lot of reasons why a stereotype threat effect wasn’t found for chess. Expert chess players that play tournaments may have so much practice playing games that motivational changes induced by who they play with might not have much of an effect. In addition, because just about 12 percent of the rated players are women, the women playing tournament chess possess a great deal of practice playing against men, hence the effects of stereotypes could have weakened. And, obviously, it’s likely that stereotype threat effects are visible in controlled lab conditions, but not in real world scenarios.

Source: Psychology Today

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