Biological Determinants of Expertise in Chess

That there is a difference in the brain of a female when compared with the brain of a male is no longer questioned by science. Consider this from the article, “How Male and Female Brains Differ.”

“Disparities Start Early in Life”

“Scientists now know that sex hormones begin to exert their influence during development of the fetus. A recent study by Israeli researchers that examined male and female brains found distinct differences in the developing fetus at just 26 weeks of pregnancy. The disparities could be seen when using an ultrasound scanner. The corpus callosum — the bridge of nerve tissue that connects the right and left sides of the brain — had a thicker measurement in female fetuses than in male fetuses.

Observations of adult brains show that this area may remain stronger in females. “Females seem to have language functioning in both sides of the brain,” says Martha Bridge Denckla, PhD, a research scientist at Kennedy Krieger Institute.

Consider these recent findings. Researchers, using brain imaging technology that captures blood flow to “working” parts of the brain, analyzed how men and women process language. All subjects listened to a novel. When males listened, only the left hemisphere of their brains was activated. The brains of female subjects, however, showed activity on both the left and right hemispheres.” (

Consider this contained in the paper, “Intelligence and chess” by Fernand Gobet, & Guillermo Campitelli, published in 2002:

Geschwind and Galaburda’s theory (1985)

“Geschwind and Galaburda (1985) developed an influential theory of the
neuroanatomical substrate of talent. Their aim was to explain a complex pattern of
results linking, among other things, phenomena such as talent in visuo-spatial
domains (e.g., music or mathematics), brain lateralisation, dyslexia, proneness to
allergies, and handedness. The theory is rather complicated, and, given limits in
space, we will limit ourselves to its main components. It is known that the right
hemisphere of the brain normally underpins visuo-spatial abilities (e.g., Kosslyn &
Koenig, 1992). Geschwind and Galaburda reasoned that better development (e.g.,
pattern of cortical connections) of the right hemisphere should lead to better performance
in visuo-spatial tasks. The key step is to propose that great exposure or
high sensitivity to intrauterine testosterone in the developing male foetus leads to a
less developed left hemisphere than usual, and, as a compensation, to a more
developed right hemisphere. Hence, males should be more represented than females
in visuo-spatial domains such as mathematics, music, and chess, and left-handers
should be more represented in these fields than in the general population. We now
consider the available evidence for testing Geschwind and Galaburda’s theory in

In another section of the paper one finds, “Handedness and chess,” in which they quote two studies having found 18% of chess players are left-handed. “This percentage significantly differs from the percentage in the general population, which has been estimated to lie between 10% and 13.5%.”

The conclusion can only be that because of the difference in the brain of a female, who utilizes both sides of her brain, as opposed to a male, who is more orientated to using one side of his brain, this plays a role in the chess ability of female chess players. Gobet and Campitelli write, “Taken together, these results suggest that there exists biological determinants of expertise in chess.”


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