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Improving Cognitive Outcomes through Chess

Health & Psychology Malawi

Boy playing chess | morortion via Adobe Stock

Study Context

Research indicates that poverty impedes cognition. This is particularly evident in developing countries, where children often underutilize their brains both outside and in school. The development of abilities such as critical analysis, informed decision-making, memory, strategic planning, and spatial awareness is crucial. These skills are frequently underdeveloped in contexts of extreme poverty. Chess is increasingly recognized as a valuable educational tool that offers a stimulating and enjoyable way to enhance cognitive development in children, fostering these essential skills.

In contrast to advanced economies, which have the resources to enhance student learning through large investments in school infrastructure, teacher quality, and educational technology, developing economies face substantial financial constraints in doing so. In this context, chess, which has until now not been integrated into most Sub-Saharan African educational systems, presents a potentially cost-effective strategy to boost student achievement. Once acquired, the skills imparted by chess promise multidimensional cognitive benefits with relatively low requirements for supervision and minimal capital investment (such as chess sets).

Study Design

This study aims to conduct a randomized field experiment to specifically identify the impact of chess education on cognitive outcomes. This will enable an assessment of whether chess can serve as a cost-effective intervention to develop vital cognitive abilities. Participating schools and grades will be randomly divided into two groups: one receiving chess instruction and the other engaging in less cognitively demanding activities. The study will evaluate academic outcomes, including performance in standardized math, science, and language exams. Crucially, non-academic outcomes will be assessed, focusing on decision-making abilities, visuospatial working memory (such as spatial span), time preferences, planning and cognitive perseverance, children’s confidence, gender attitudes, and parental beliefs about academic achievement.

Results and Policy Lessons

Results forthcoming.

  • Uyanga Byambaa

2024 — ongoing

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