From ChessBase News: “Normally knowing your enemy is an advantage. Not so in chess games between the sexes. In a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Volume 38, Issue 2 (March/April 2008) (pdf here), Anne Maass, Claudio D’Ettole, Mara Cadinu, Dr Anne Maass (et al.) pitted male and female players against each other via the Internet. Women showed a 50% performance decline when they were aware that they were playing a male opponent.” Here’s the article’s abstract.
* * *
Women are surprisingly underrepresented in the chess world, representing less that 5% of registered tournament players worldwide and only 1% of the world’s grandmasters. In this paper it is argued that gender stereotypes are mainly responsible for the underperformance of women in chess. Forty-two male-female pairs, matched for ability, played two chess games via the Internet. When players were unaware of the sex of opponent (control condition), females played approximately as well as males. When the gender stereotype was activated (experimental condition), women showed a drastic performance drop, but only when they were aware that they were playing against a male opponent. When they (falsely) believed to be playing against a woman, they performed as well as their male opponents. In addition, our findings suggest that women show lower chess-specific self-esteem and a weaker promotion focus, which are predictive of poorer chess performance.
* * *
Here’s the article’s conclusion.
* * *
A number of novel findings emerge from the present study that complement cognitively-oriented research on chess. Most importantly, gender stereotypes can have a greatly debilitating effect on female players leading to a 50% performance decline when playing against males. Interestingly, this disadvantage is completely removed when players are led to believe that they are playing against a woman. This may, in part, occur because women choose a more defensive style when playing with men.
A second and more general message of our study is that self-confidence and a win-oriented promotion motivation contribute positively to chess performance. Since women show lower chess-specific self-esteem and a more cautious regulatory focus than males, possibly as a consequence of widely held gender stereotypes, this may at least in part explain their worldwide underrepresentation and underperformance in chess.
Thus, women seem disadvantaged not because they are lacking cognitive or spatial abilities, but because they approach chess competitions with lesser confidence and with a more cautious attitude than their male opponents. Hence, a motivational perspective may be better suited to understand (and prevent) the underperformance of women in the ‘ultimate intellectual sport.’
* * *
You can dowload the entire article here. To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Gender-Science Stereotypes,” “The Situation of Gender and Science,” “Stereotype Threat and Performance,” “The Gendered Situation of Science & Math,” “Gender-Imbalanced Situation of Math, Science, and Engineering,” “Sex Differences in Math and Science,” “You Shouldn’t Stereotype Stereotypes,” “Women’s Situation in Economics,” and “Your Group is Bad at Math.”