A recent study has determined that playing certain games really does boost intelligence, problem solving skills, and memory. These brain exercises are a fun way to keep our brains alert and capable. In the study, a Swiss-American research team reports on how they used a computer based brain-training method to improve general problem-solving ability.
Games like Sudoku, crossword puzzles, Scrabble, and memory games all result in improved memory and expanded vocabulary. The young an the elderly can benefit most from these types of games, while the rest of us can use this as a tool to stay sharp and articulate throughout the years.
Many psychologists had thought the only way to improve problem solving ability, was to actually practice the specific problem solving task you wanted to get better at. However, this theory is overturned in the work by Dr. Susanne Jaeggi, Dr. Martin Buschkühl and additional colleagues at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and University of Bern. These experts have determined that anyone can improve general problem solving by participating in unrelated mental exercises and puzzles.
In the experiment, the team gave 35 volunteers a series of mental training exercises designed to improve their working memory, while they also had 35 more subjects who did not undergo the exercises.
Those who underwent the tests were shown a sequence of squares appearing one after another on the computer screen every three seconds. The task was to decide whether a certain square was at the same position as another one previously seen in the sequence. At the same time, participants heard spoken letters and had to decide whether the currently heard letter was the same as one presented two or three steps earlier in the sequence.
If a participant did well the tasks became harder, while if they performed poorly it became easier. This experiment went on for between 8 and 19 days, after which participants’ problem solving ability was assessed and compared to the group who had not taken part in the exercises.
According to the results of the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the group who took part in the puzzles had significantly improved their problem solving ability. In addition, the more the participants trained, the more problems they could solve.
Motivation appears to be an important factor in this exercise. The experts suggest that people have to be committed to mental exercise to reap the benefits. Haphazard gaming will not produce the same effects as ambitious mind training. This finding is no surprise considering the general rule that ‘practice makes perfect’. After all, you wouldn’t expect a couch potato to get up and run a 5k. Nor would a beginning weight trainee walk in the gym and squat 550 lbs. Nor would a football player step out into the national spotlight without daily, hardcore practice and training.
This study provides the first evidence that mental exercise improves intelligence and general problem solving ability. You can now take solace in time well-spent on crosswords, Sudoko, Scrabble, or any other thought intensive games.