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Cognitive ability over the Life course: Evidence from chess tournaments

Jan 31 @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

We are happy to announce that our 2024 seminar series will begin next week with a presentation by David Canning on cognitive ability over the life course.

“We use data on chess tournament performance in the United States over the period 2004-2018 to assess how performance varies over the life course. We have data on performance 369,481 players in over 16 million games. We use data on players aged 1 to 100 years of age. We find very rapid increases in performance with age for children and a peak for adults at age 55 with a slow decline with age after the peak. We find strong experience effects with performance improving with chess playing experience, with fast learning for children but a decline in the slope of the performance-experience relationship with age. We also adjust for selection effects using a Heckman selection model based on incentives to play from rating title boundaries. We recruited a sample of 154 chess players and compared their chess performance against a standard battery of cognitive tests. We find a moderate positive correlation for average players but less relationship for elite players. We also examine the effect of exposure to air pollution (PM2.5) in the players home address ZIP codes on tournament performance. We find that exposure to PM2.5 in the year prior to play has a significant negative effect on performance for all age groups, with significant performance effects even below current recommended exposure thresholds.”

About the presenter
David Canning is Richard Saltonstall Professor of Population Sciences and Professor of Economics and International Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He holds a PhD in Economics from Cambridge University. Canning’s research focuses on how demographic change affects economic growth and wellbeing, examining both the effects of fertility change and population aging.

This is an in-person event and registration is required to attend.

A light lunch will be served in the School of Economics staff lounge, Middle Campus at 12:30.


Jan 31
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Event Category:


Amy Jephthah


UCT School of Economics, 4th Floor Seminar Room
UCT Middle Campus
Cape Town, Western Cape 7700 South Africa
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