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Bishops and Basketball: The Benefits of Chess on Social-Emotional Outcomes

by Emily Sholtis & Anna Nicotera, Basis Policy Research

Are academic and cognitive outcomes the only areas in which students benefit from chess? A research team out of Spain hypothesized no, and designed a quasi-experimental research study to explore the potential impact of chess on cognitive outcomes and what they refer to as “social-affective competencies.” These competencies refer to skills and behaviors that help students mature and adapt socially, and are largely missing from chess research literature.


In their article “The Benefits of Chess for the Intellectual and Social-Emotional Enrichment in Schoolchildren”, Ramón Aciego, Lorena Garcia, and Moisés Betancort explore the potential impact of chess on a wide age range of students. The researchers, based at the Universidad de La Laguna in Spain, utilized a sample of 230 schoolchildren between the ages of 6 and 16 from eight schools on the Isle of Tenerife. The sample consisted of students who chose to take part in extracurricular activities. The treatment group was made up of 170 students who elected to play chess while the comparison group consisted of 60 randomly selected peers who chose basketball or soccer instead of chess. Over the course of a school year, data was collected on cognitive performance and social-affective competence using an IQ test, a self-reported rating scale, and a teacher questionnaire.


After a full school year, researchers found cognitive effects similar to those documented in other chess studies, where the students who played chess outperformed non-chess players on nine measures in an IQ test. This study also found improvements to the socio-affective skills of the chess players. On both self-reporting measures and teacher ratings, the research group showed significant improvements in their social-affective competencies relative to their comparison group peers across six different metrics. Areas of growth highlighted by the researchers included personal adjustment, academic adjustment, and coping capacity. This resulted in students feeling more satisfied with their academic lives, more confident in their abilities, and more able to cope with setbacks or challenges.


Despite interesting findings, this study does not advocate for replacing extracurricular sports with chess. However, as educators seek out programs to teach students social-emotional skills, this study offers chess as an impactful addition to afterschool programming that could help to develop more well-rounded students.