Does Chess Make You Smarter?

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Chess has been around for centuries. Originally created as a strategy simulator for country leaders, it’s become the go-to “smart kid” game. Chess has been used as an indicator of intelligence in pop culture for a long time, but is it warranted? Can chess increase your IQ? The answer is a little more complicated than you might think.

Studies have found that chess can have a positive impact on your IQ through an improvement in spatial awareness and perspective development. It’s not the biggest determining factor, but it can have huge benefits if played regularly and from a young age. It can also have major long-term benefits for your memory, potentially even in the prevention of dangerous conditions like dementia.

Here’s what you need to know about the relationship between this war game and your mental development.

Chess and Your IQ

According to a 2017 study reported to the National Library of Medicine, there was a significant correlation found between chess and similar mental workouts and higher fluid intelligence, as well as an increase in academic skills such as math and literacy.

The researchers weren’t completely able to rule out placebo effects, but they were able to conclude that these games were generally played by more intelligent individuals, and can help improve cognition when paired with other forms of learning.

A different study from 2016, which included several universities in the United States and the UK, also found a high correlation between chess skill and cognitive abilities. This study also found improvement across all of the participating groups – from several age ranges and skill levels – in other areas of intelligence such as verbal ability and visuospatial (visualization) ability.

So, while it’s not the only deciding factor, chess can be a major factor in developing your intelligence if played from an early age, which can improve IQ scores dramatically.

Chess Helps with Visual Perspective-Taking Development

In another NLM study from 2019, researchers were able to determine a huge link between chess-playing, especially in youth, and the development of visual perspective-taking, or VPT, skills. This means that regular chess players are able to see the world from another person’s point of view more often and more accurately than non-players.

An increase in VPT skills can increase spatial awareness and understanding, as players often have to guess their opponents’ moves before they’re made. Playing chess can help reduce biases about the similarity of one’s own situation to others, which can lead to an increase in empathy and a better understanding of other people’s lives.

A different 2019 study found that the use of chess skills aided the development of VPT skills, this time focusing on very young children. The researchers found that children who played or watched chess matches were better able to complete a simple turtle task than those who hadn’t.

Though these children were too young to make these decisions wholly independently, the children exposed to chess games were more likely to indicate a sense of understanding for another person’s actions, which led the researchers to call for more study on the topic.

Chess Can Make You a Better Problem Solver

One study from 2006 showed that people who played chess regularly were better at solving complex problems than those who didn’t. They used one of the standard psychological tests – the Tower of London test – to measure ability, and found that, though the chess players took more time to solve the problem, they were more effective at the planning and execution of the solution.

More recently, in 2017, researchers found that the impact of chess on mathematical problem-solving skills was minimal at best on their own. That being said, a study of school children in 2020 found that chess playing made for better weighing of the consequences of a given decision, leading to a more reasoned response. They attribute this to improvements in working memory.

As an aside in that particular study, the researchers noted that children encouraged to take part in games like chess may perform better in school overall than children who aren’t. They’re optimistic that hands-on chess training with an experienced player would help them pick up the game and its transferrable skills more quickly and easily.

Chess Improves and May Even Protect Memory

As mentioned above, chess has been found to improve memory. A study from 2015 found that chess players were able to recall auditory information much quicker and easier than non-players, showing a significant correlation between chess and the improvement of auditory memory.

Researchers hypothesize that this is because chess players are used to having to plan and problem solve based on a series of moves made by their opponent, which changes in every game. This elasticity lets their brains develop more connections in areas controlling memory. These connections have been recorded in digital imaging scans of participants.

In fact, according to a 2019 study by the University of Alicante in Spain, playing chess regularly throughout your life, and especially as a senior, can significantly reduce the impact of dementia. Those same connections made by playing the game are affected by the disease, so their hypothesis is that players are ensuring they are in constant use and so cannot atrophy as extensively.

These findings are still in need of more research to be fully confirmed, but they are promising, considering how difficult to treat and devastating these conditions can be.

Chess Does Increase Intelligence

Chess is a “smart man’s game,” and that reputation is well-earned. It can make you smarter, kinder, and more ready to face the future, all while providing a fun pastime you can share with your friends and family. It’s a “smart man’s game” because it makes its players smarter, so it’s worth investing in.

So, the next time you’re worried about passing a major test, remembering key bits of information, or solving a problem in your life, why not use your downtime productively, and pick up a pawn or two? It doesn’t hurt – and really, it can only help – to try.

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