Does music or chess enhance cognitive skills?

27 Dec

The idea that playing chess and studying music improves cognition in other domains, such as math, is called far transfer. It is a very seductive idea with a strong intuitive appeal. “Teach the kids chess and it will improve their academic performance.”

A recent meta-analysis published in Current Directions of Psychological Science, casts doubt on this popular belief. The paper is both persuasive and well written and I encourage educators to read it. Here is the abstract:

Chess masters and expert musicians appear to be, on average, more intelligent than the general population. Some researchers have thus claimed that playing chess or learning music enhances children’s cognitive abilities and academic attainment. We here present two meta-analyses assessing the effect of chess and music instruction on children’s cognitive and academic skills. A third meta-analysis evaluated the effects of working memory training—a cognitive skill correlated with music and chess expertise—on the same variables. The results show small to moderate effects. However, the effect sizes are inversely related to the quality of the experimental design (e.g., presence of active control groups). This pattern of results casts serious doubts on the effectiveness of chess, music, and working memory training. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of these findings; extend the debate to other types of training such as spatial training, brain training, and video games; and conclude that far transfer of learning rarely occurs.

In an era of scarce educational resources, teachers in fields like art and music often defend their place in the curriculum by using far transfer arguments. Music we are told will improve math scores. This research calls into question these kinds of claims.

Art and music belong in the curriculum because they are valuable in their own right. Not everything needs to justified by how it affects math scores.

One Response to “Does music or chess enhance cognitive skills?”

  1. Kathy H December 27, 2017 at 9:59 am #

    It would be sad if art and music were taken out of the curriculum. Unfortunately, that is what schools do to save money.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: