It has been proposed that playing chess enables children to improve their ability in mathematics. These claims have been recently evaluated in a meta-analysis (Sala & Gobet, 2016, Educational Research Review, 18, 46–57), which indicated a significant effect in favor of the groups playing chess. However, the meta-analysis also showed that most of the reviewed studies used a poor experimental design (in particular, they lacked an active control group). We ran two experiments that used a three-group design including both an active and a passive control group, with a focus on mathematical ability. In the first experiment (N = 233), a group of third and fourth graders was taught chess for 25 hours and tested on mathematical problem-solving tasks. Participants also filled in a questionnaire assessing their meta-cognitive ability for mathematics problems. The group playing chess was compared to an active control group (playing checkers) and a passive control group. The three groups showed no statistically significant difference in mathematical problem-solving or metacognitive abilities in the posttest. The second experiment (N = 52) broadly used the same design, but the Oriental game of Go replaced checkers in the active control group. While the chess-treated group and the passive control group slightly outperformed the active control group with mathematical problem solving, the differences were not statistically significant. No differences were found with respect to metacognitive ability. These results suggest that the effects (if any) of chess instruction, when rigorously tested, are modest and that such interventions should not replace the traditional curriculum in mathematics.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Behavioral Neuroscience