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Two psychology students study the surprising way gender stereotypes may affect how individuals approach the game of chess

Kudron, Grimm, and LoCasio.

The queen is the most powerful piece on a chess board, but men continue to outperform women when it comes to playing the game. In research this spring, TCNJ psychology students will examine how persistent gender stereotypes may affect chess players’ motivation and performance.

Seniors Sarah Kudron and Nick LoCassio will study what motivates players in solving a series of chess puzzles as part of research in the Motivation, Individual Differences, and Stereotypes in Cognition Lab run by psychology professor Lisa Grimm.

“We’ll look at how framing affects performance,” Kudron said. Participants will solve puzzles under two different motivational frameworks: one based on gains and another on losses. Some players will start with no points and earn them for making good moves; others will start with a bank of points and potentially lose them depending on the quality of their play.

Since the stereotype persists that women are worse at chess, Kudron hypothesizes that women seeking to avoid losses will do better than those seeking gains. Grimm explains that if performance is suppressed by perceived stereotypes (i.e. women are expected to not play as well), women may be more attuned to losses and therefore, counterintuitively, perform better when confronted with a losses point structure than a gains point structure.

”We are looking at how both men and women (and non-binary folks) respond to the known stereotype that ‘women are bad at chess’ when presented with different reward environments,” Grimm said.

Kudron won a $500 grant from Chessable, a chess instruction website, for her research. She will also write blogs for the website describing progress in the lab.

Kudron and LoCassio will work on different parts of the study and use the data for their capstone projects. This summer they will work with Grimm to compile the research and submit a paper for publication. 

LoCassio has worked in the MISC Lab since 2021. “Our lab is based on cognitive processes; we look at how stereotypes in general affect how we can perceive the world or work within it,” he said. The effect of stereotypes might not be in one’s conscious awareness, he said, but “It really is fascinating the extent to which it can change your performance.”

— Patricia Alex