Researchers in Australia taught children to play chess and found that a year later their aversion to risk decreased significantly. And not just any kind of risks either: the children become better at avoiding risks that rarely result in positive outcomes and plow through risks that were likely to result in a positive outcome.
Things of value in life typically involve risk, whether it’s quitting your job to follow your passion or overcoming your fear of rejection when approaching a person you find attractive. But not all risks are equal and not everything risky has the potential to enrich our lives. On the contrary, there are some risks that are just stupid to take, such as gambling knowing the odds are stacked against you.
One could argue that the most successful people across the board are those who knew which risks were worth pursuing at the right time. Chess may be a great way to train this ability to perform cost-benefit analyses, according to a new study published by researchers from Monash University and Deakin University.
The researchers recruited 400 school children from the UK, 15 to 16 years old, who had never played chess before. After they were trained to play, the children had their cognitive abilities assessed over the course of a year.
According to the results, the children experienced a decrease in risk aversion, scored better at math, and improved in logic and rational thinking skills.
The researchers in Australia mention that chess is ideal for demonstrating the fine line between good and poor risk-taking. Sometimes sacrificing your knight or performing some other gambit can bait your adversary into a trap that quickly ends in checkmate. In other scenarios, sacrificing pieces on the board can be extremely detrimental — and this becomes painfully evident the more you play.
Furthermore, the skills learned from chess in terms of risk assessment and decreased risk-aversion (for the ‘good’ risks) were long-lasting. Most of the children had lowered risk aversion a full year after the end of the participation in the study.
“Our main finding is that chess training reduces the level of risk aversion almost a year after the intervention ended. We do not find any evidence of significant effects of chess training on other academic outcomes, creativity, and attention/focus,” wrote the authors of the new study.
The findings appeared in the Journal of Development Economics.