Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Strategic behavior across gender: Men play more aggressively against women

Artwork by Mike Magnan

Strategic behavior across gender: A comparison of female and male expert chess players
By Patrik Gränsmark

With the tremendous development of the database software in the last decade, chess has become one of the most documented games or sports in the world. To have access to such a rich database is a dream for any scientist whose research relies on statistics. Scientists are not only interested in the data per se but also in the fact that expert chess players constitute a very interesting group of people, not least because chess is associated with intelligence and expertise. One field of research analyzing chess data is economics where concepts as risk behavior and strategic aggressiveness are studied.

When we compete in sports, games or the working life, we try to increase our winning probabilities by adopting suitable strategies. In tennis, football, poker and chess, to mention but a few, certain situations require certain degree of aggressiveness. This also applies to a wage bargaining situation where we must find an optimal level of aggressiveness. If we demand too low a wage we signal that our skills are not particularly high. On the other hand, if we ask for a wage far above the market wage, we signal that we are not very realistic. In tennis, for instance, we can choose to adopt a more aggressive style which will lead to more forced wins but also to more unforced errors. Whether it is better to adopt a cautious strategy with few unforced errors or a more aggressive but also riskier strategy depends on the situation and particularly, on the characteristics of the opponent. It is clear that people differ in their preference for risk as some people like to “gamble” while others prefer to play “safe”. The concept of risk preferences has become a hot issue in economics, not least because our risk behavior directly affects how we choose to invest our savings. Should we choose a safe bank account with a low interest rate or invest in the stock market with higher expected payoff but to a higher risk of losing?

One of the most debated topics within the study of risk behavior is if there are gender differences in risk preferences. More specifically, the question is whether men take more risks than women. If there are differences in risk preferences between men and women, this would affect, for example, savings for retirement which would lead to different future pensions for men and women. The current consensus within economics is that men do prefer more risk than women. However, whether these differences are cultural or genetic remains to be shown.

In a recent study, carried out at the Swedish Institute for Social Research at Stockholm University, chess data is being used to address the question of whether there are gender differences in risk behavior and strategic aggressiveness.

Here is the full article on ChessBase.
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