Gender risk-aversion, using data from chess

Dan Houser sends me a link to this paper, by Christer Gerdes and Patrik Gränsmark:

This paper aims to measure differences in risk behavior among expert chess players. The study employs a panel data set on international chess with 1.4 million games recorded over a period of 11 years. The structure of the data set allows us to use individual fixed-effect estimations to control for aspects such as innate ability as well as other characteristics of the players. Most notably, the data contains an objective measure of individual playing strength, the so-called Elo rating. In line with previous research, we find that women are more risk-averse than men. A novel finding is that males choose more aggressive strategies when playing against female opponents even though such strategies reduce their winning probability.

I am pleased to see that studying chess data is suddenly a "trendy" way to do behavioral economics.  Admittedly one is dealing with an unusual group of subjects.  Yet the quality of the data is high and the stakes are usually high too.  Computers can be used to judge the quality of moves.


We've always known russian men are risk-takers.

What other areas can be studied with chess, Race maybe?

Chess is interesting because it is high stakes and we can use computers to work out what the correct actions were (or increasingly can at least). What other areas are liek this? Betting maybe, dating to a small extent. Anything else?

"It is striking that both men and
women seem more inclined to choose a risky strategy when facing a female opponent on
occasions when the opponent is superior by means of their respective Elo ratings."

I dislike the "cognitive load" explanation that they offer. Rather, I think it reflects a strategic choice. If women are more risk averse, then it may well make sense to be more aggressive when playing them because they may inherently dislike such positions. This would certainly be the Laskerian approach.

Chess has 3 possible outcomes: win, loss or draw. Strategies that are solid maximize draw chances while lowering the chances of both wins and losses. Conversely risky strategies give more chances to win but more chances to lose.

Not only can you draw in chess, but it's the most common outcome in both human and computer games.

"Risk-taking as a situationally sensitive male mating strategy", and other papers of possible interest. (Google Scholar search string results linked to here...) (They are of course writing about proximate cognitive causal mechanisms executing behavioral-programs in response to cues. There is no need to posit any conscious or subconscious goal-oriented teleological cognitive processing.)

You don't have to look at chess to see that men are more aggressive. Just look at earnings by gender. Wasn't this the conclusion in the Economist and Superfreakonomics?

It appears that sex differences in risk taking increase when people are stressed - in this lab study ("Acute Stress Increases Sex Differences in Risk Seeking in the Balloon Analogue Risk Task" in PLOS:One), inducing stress increased males' risk-seeking in a game whereas stress made females less risk seeking:

Comments for this post are closed