SHEFFIELD, England — Considering the queen is the most powerful piece on a chessboard, it should be no surprise that women are performing better than expected against men in chess matches based on their official ratings, a new study finds.
Researchers at the University of Sheffield analyzed more than 167,000 ranked chess players and data from 5.5 million chess matches between 2008 and 2015 to arrive at this conclusion.
Early readings of the data suggest that women are not affected by negative stereotypes about female chess abilities in competitive chess matches. This goes against previous studies that have suggested that the so-called “stereotype threat,” an awareness of negative stigmas against female players, could hamstring a woman’s performance in competitive chess matches.
“These findings show that even famous psychological phenomena may not be present all the time. Factors other than stereotype threat appear to be more important in determining men and women’s tournament chess performance,” says study author Tom Stafford, a psychological scientist, in an Association for Psychological Science news release.
Earlier research on the stereotype threat had shown that being aware of a negative perception can make players nervous, less able to suppress negative thoughts that might impair performance, and more self-conscious. But female players were not as affected by this as previously thought.
The world of elite chess uses a rating system that updates players’ ratings when they win or lose. These ratings are used to predict who will win in a match between any two players. Male players overall had higher ratings in this system, but the actual game outcomes show that female players beat men more often than expected when considering their ratings.
In fact, women outperformed expectations when playing a man compared to when they played other women.
“The news is good for female chess players, of whom there are exploding numbers. Although discrimination is real and pervasive, women playing tournament chess do not seem to be at a disadvantage when paired with men,” says Stafford.
The researchers looked at data and matches of 150,977 men and 16,158 women during the study period.
The full study was published in the journal Psychological Science.