Attention focus, which is the ability to concentrate mental energy on an object, phenomenon or process, is a basic condition for the efficiency of the performed activity. Chess is a sport with benefits that have often been demonstrated, one of its advantages being the improvement of concentration. Today, many children are easily distracted by perturbing factors when performing important actions, which leads to poor performance. This paper aims to analyse how the study of chess improves the attention span in primary school children. The study subjects were 29 primary school children aged 6-11, both boys and girls from urban and rural areas, who participated in chess courses once a week for half a year. Some of them started chess courses at the beginning of the study, and others had a year or two in which they studied chess once a week. They were given initial tests before starting this study to see what attention span they had and, after 6 months, they were given final tests to see if there was any improvement in their focus. The tests used were the Kraepelin, Bourdon-Anfimov and Toulouse-Pieron focused attention tests. The results showed an improvement in focus for the majority of subjects.
Chess is a mental game played by two people using a board of 64 white and black squares and 16 pieces each and one of the most important skills needed to be a good player is concentration, because it is necessary to be able to detect various threats, possibilities and attacks.
Chess is seen by some people as just an amusing activity, but many of the highly valuable qualities of the mind can be acquired or strengthened with this sport (Sala et al., 2017). Most people think the study of chess is beneficial to children, and this persuades parents to enrol their children in an extracurricular chess club or to take advantage of a chess class at school.
Educators consider using this sport as a training strategy to stimulate intellectual processes such as attention, memory, creativity and reasoning (Krogius, 1972), or to strengthen abilities as concentration, problem solving, planning strategies and creativity for students with special educational needs (Storey, 2000).
In the academic field, chess started to gain attention when some researchers proved that chess skills lead to the improvement of academic achievement due to their transferability to other areas (Smith, 1998).
Over the past few years, numerous studies have been carried out to prove the cognitive benefits of training chess (Gliga & Flesner, 2014). In other studies, some children in experimental groups who had studied chess for a specified period were compared to children in control groups who had not participated in chess lessons. This comparison showed an evolution of the first group in several aspects such as intelligence, memory, critical thinking (Ferguson, 1988).
An ability of children that is not fully exploited is their attention, which is the psychic phenomenon that designates the activity of selective orientation, of focusing the mental energy on an object, for the purpose of deeper knowledge and efficient action, along with all its qualities: volume, distribution, stability, concentration (intensity) and mobility (Mitrache & Tudos, 2015). In our study, we took into account the focus of attention, a primordial aspect in achieving performance both in the sports field and in daily activity. The ability to focus attention depends on several factors: external, such as novelty of objects and situations, intensity of stimuli, movement, variation, change and internal, such as interest.
It is well known that there is no human activity that can be carried out without attention. The success of an activity, including the support of a chess game, depends to a large extent on the attention it is treated with and it has been found that athletes have always been possessing a remarkable ability to concentrate. In the case of voluntary attention specific to the practice of chess, every player must have the will to keep it awake throughout the game. When conducting a long-lasting activity that requires a linear attention, we can not afford fluctuations of attention, but constant focus is needed throughout the match. In the event of rapid changes in focus, such as chess games, where the player must simultaneously control the game, chess clock and the notation of the moves, it is necessary to constantly educate attention mobility. In addition, the chess player acting in difficult circumstances during the game, due to disturbing factors, must gradually become accustomed to evading the negative influence of these external agents. Therefore, attention can be educated as a result of persistent and continuous efforts.
The problem addressed in this study is about the intensity of attention in the investigated children. The first to use the term “attention” was the psychologist William James (Popescu-Neveanu, 1977). Concentration is an effort to which the subject can become accustomed after many long attempts, and distraction sometimes appears as a symptom of the inability to concentrate. Attention focus, which is the ability to concentrate mental energy on an object, phenomenon or process, is a basic condition for the efficiency of the performed activity.
Unfortunately, the concentration of children is becoming more and more precarious, being distracted by some factors which lead to low performances in their activities. We believe that developing and maintaining this feature of attention is absolutely necessary in good chess performance. We also strongly believe and it has been demonstrated that this higher quality of attention gained through the practice of chess has a character transferable to other day-to-day activities. (Sala & Gobet, 2016)
Through this paper, we want to show that, by studying chess for a longer period, a higher level of concentrated attention can be achieved.
Our research questions are:
Can we increase the level of focus by means and methods specific to chess and, if so, can we use them as educational tools to increase overall concentration capacity?
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study was to show the effects of chess on focusing. More precisely, we wanted to see if practicing this sport led to a higher level of concentrated attention.
For the study, 34 children in grades 1 to 4 were tested. The subjects were boys and girls aged between 6 and 11 (average age = 8.24 years). They were given initial focused attention tests before starting the study and final tests at the end of the chess study period (pre- and post-tests).
Most children were practicing this sport prior to the program, having 1-3 years of chess study experience, while some of them learned the basics of chess at the start of the study. The subjects participated in a chess session once a week for one hour, over a period of six months, from October 2017 to March 2018.
The program consisted in teaching children the basic rules of chess, tactical and strategic elements, and chess-specific memory and visualisation exercises. Kids learned about the basic opening, middle game and ending principles, and they were particularly asked to be highly focused on their opponents’ moves, because not paying attention to this might cause difficult situations or even more, the loss of the game.
The tests used to assess progress were the Kraepelin, Bourdon-Anfimov and Toulouse-Pieron focused attention tests. These tests are evidence of cognitive ability assessment, which calls for attention and appreciation of the speed of thinking, resistance to fatigue and monotony, under the condition of a minimal intellectual effort.
During the program, pupils mainly studied chess elements, as board and chess pieces, how chess pieces move, different types of checkmates, elementary endgames, basic principles in opening, multiple attacks, but they also performed concentration and memory exercises specific to this game.
At the end of the program, the subjects attended a rapid chess tournament and a solving problem contest.
To find out if there is a significant difference in the level of attention concentration before and after studying chess, the statistical Z-test was used, starting from the hypotheses:
null hypothesis H0: The study of chess does not change the level of focused attention in children;
alternative hypothesis H1: Chess study leads to improved focused attention in children.
As can be noticed in the data presented above (Tables
Following the study, we wanted to check whether the continued study of chess could achieve a higher level of attention concentration in primary school children and show once more the educational value of chess on children. Most subjects improved their focused attention and very few subjects did not show a significant difference between the results of pre- and post-tests.
In conclusion, our study has shown that chess can help children develop certain cognitive skills, but this is only valid in the context of a structured study that focuses on exercises of attention, memory, decision-making etc., which are specific to the sport of chess.
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16 February 2019
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Sports, sport science, physical education
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Velea, T., & Cojocaru, V. (2019). The Effect Of Playing Chess On Focused Attention. In V. Grigore, M. Stănescu, M. Stoicescu, & L. Popescu (Eds.), Education and Sports Science in the 21st Century, vol 55. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 685-690). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2019.02.84