Should You Stop Playing Mind Games?

Man Solving Rubix Cube
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In popular culture, challenging games such as crossword puzzles and chess are often grouped togther as "mind games," intellectually-stimulating activities that supposedly keep your mind sharp and even improve your intelligence. Several online programs, such as Lumosity, have even claimed that their games can protect your brain from age-related cognitive decline and help your mind achieve its full potential. But recent clinical research has cast doubt on the brain-boosting reputations of these so-called "mind games."

In a controlled, randomized trial, a group of healthy young adults were evaluated for mental performance after playing video games. 64 individuals played Lumosity brain-training games for 30 minute sessions five times per week for 10 weeks, 64 others played web-based video games, and a control group did not play any games.

The researchers found that not only did the brain-training games fail to improve overall mental performance more than web-based video games, they also failed to enhance cognitive scores over the group that played no games at all. The study concluded that consistently playing Lumosity games, and other "mind games," only improve the individual's performance on each particular game, not overall mental performance.

Sharp Elderly Man Teaches Child Chess
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While this study and several others have raised skepticism about the cognitive benefits to be had from "mind games," there is a silver lining. While these game may not improve overall cognitive function, research has shown that each game has the ability to enhance specific categories of mental functioning, especially if your mind is weak in that area.

For example, if you struggle to recall specific words or terminology that you do not commonly use in conversation, crossword puzzles or other word games such as Scrabble can improve your ability to retrieve vocabulary from your memory. If you find yourself forgetting names and appointments, jigsaw puzzles and memorization games can exercise your short-term memory and effectively expand its capacity. If you wish to improve your problem-solving skills, playing chess or other strategy games that require you to plan your path to victory can be beneficial.

Understanding how these games affect your brain can help you plan a rigorous routine of cognitive-boosting activities, allowing your brain to constantly adapt to new mental challenges. A diverse curriculum of "mind games" can help forge new neural connections and strengthen existing ones to keep your mind sharp well into advanced years.



Jennifer recently retired from her career as a Certified Manual Physical Therapist to spend more time with her family. When she isn't writing about natural medicine, she enjoys practicing yoga, rock climbing, and running marathons.

Email Jennifer at [email protected].


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