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  Of Chess and Violence or Why do men play better chess?

March 23, 2005


Men are extremists.

Men are better at chess than women.
Men also far, far more likely to exhibit violent criminal behavior.

This isn't to suggest that women do not commit heinous crimes any more than it suggests that the Polgár sisters are aberrations. And it doesn't examine any possible explanations. But facts are facts.

A well publicized story in recent months concerned the ramifications from certain remarks made by Dr. Lawrence Summers, president of Harvard University during a conference on diversity in the Sciences. In putting forth possible reasons why men so outnumber women in certain fields, Summers stated, "In the special case of science and engineering there are issues of intrinsic aptitude. " He continued to explain that this "intrinsic aptitude" may possibly be more relevant than the more commonly held opinion that women are victims "socialization and continuing discrimination."  In other words, he was simply saying that one possible explanation for the unbalance might be the innate differences between men and women and as a possibility, the idea warrants examination.

Having one foot in the quagmire of Feminism, on first reading I found Summers remarks a bit irksome. Having my other foot planted on terra firma, I tried to apply some common sense.

Some newspapers related the reaction of MIT biologist, Nancy Hopkins, who walked out during the conference and was quoted as saying that if she hadn't left,  "I would've either blacked out or thrown up."  - possibly and inadvertently adding some credence to Summers' remarks.

As mentioned, Summers was subsequently raked over the coals by the knee-jerk reactions of over-sensitive groups who chose to not only misinterpret his remarks but to summarily dismiss them as if they alone possessed only possible truths - a particularly odd and disturbing sentiment from the academic arena where minds have traditionally been open and accepting to diverse ideas with the understandings that lies and untruths wither in the light of day and that they can only be discredited if confronted.

Many of the news articles gave hints of "studies" concerning the differences in the intelligences between the genders. I tried to locate some of these studies to see what was what and what I stumbled upon were some interesting and surprising findings that do, in fact, support Dr. Summers' suggestion that the biological and genetic aspects should be looked into.

The first study was in the difference in the physical characteristics of the brains of women and men. Men's brains contain more gray matter, while women's brains contain more white matter. Not only that, but the distribution or placement of each sex's white and gray matter differs greatly. In addition, the female brain is smaller than the male brain, but in compensation contains more folding and has greater density. The really strange part is that with all these physical differences there is seemingly little discrepancy in the general IQ's between men and women.

From a summary of other studies, I found this information:

"There appear to be no substantial differences between men and women in average IQ. But the distribution of IQ scores is slightly different for men than for women. Men tend to be more heavily represented at the extremes of the IQ distribution. Men are affected by mental retardation more frequently than are women, and they also outnumber women at very high levels of measured intelligence. Women’s scores are more closely clustered around the mean."

And herein lies my interest.

Whether these last studies are true or not, or whether the causes are innate or post-natal (and by post-natal, I don't necessarily mean environmental. I have also seen studies that indicate that habitual, repetitive behavior actually makes minute changes to the brain - something along the line of thought that the neurons, traveling along the same path over and over, make a rut for themselves that's eventually hard to get around, making habits hard to break.) is secondary to me. But the concept seems to help explain a lot things. It offers one more reason why women can play (at least at this moment in time) excellent chess up to a certain level but beyond that point, men almost exclusively take over. It also offers one more reason why so many men are violently criminal compared to so few women. This doesn't exclude other reasons - environmental, social or cultural - but buttresses them.

It also in part exonerates Dr. Lawrence Summers, at least in my mind.







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