The answer is it depends. Puzzle games can definitely improve skills that will raise your IQ. But is testing at a higher IQ the same as smarter? Some will say yes and others will say no.
The practice of getting better at a particular type of puzzle game does give your brain a workout. But how does that brain workout translate into other tasks? Let’s take a look.
Does brain training make you smarter?
A randomized controlled trial in June of 2010 set out to answer this exact question. They studied 11,430 participants for 6 weeks. The goal was to see if “brain training” games translated to improvements in other tasks.
They found that participants did get better with the games they were training on. But found that no evidence that those improvements transferred to untrained tasks. They even tested untrained tasks that related to the games participants were playing. Even still there was no improvement in these untrained tasks.
In fact, the FTC imposed a $2 million fine against Lumos Labs for deceptive advertising. Lumos claimed that using the brain training program Lumosity would help brainpower. That Lumosity could help prevent memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. The FTC disagreed and said “Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads.”
So far, it does not seem to be the case that brain training will actually make you smarter. It would be so nice to load up a game and play everyday to improve your smarts. But no single game has been found that will do just that yet.
That being said, we are still learning so much about how the human brain functions. Brain training today will likely look very different in the future. The hope is that with enough research, we will be able to find brain training that makes humans smarter.
Do puzzles increase IQ?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is more nuanced.
First, remember how we measure IQ. It’s all about performance on a test. A test that stretches pattern recognition and problem solving abilities. It stands to reason that as you get better at certain types of puzzles your IQ will improve. But it is important to get better at the type of puzzles that you would find on the IQ test itself.
You will want to improve 3 key areas. Here they are with links to studies that show their value to IQ along with games that can help.
- Jigsaw puzzles
- Crossword puzzles
- Card matching games
- Executive Control
- Visuospatial Reasoning
- Maze games
- 3D games
Are puzzles good for anxiety?
Up to this point we have been focusing on smartness and IQ. But could puzzle games help with overcoming anxiety? What effect do these games have on our emotional health?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that jigsaw puzzles do help lower anxiety and stress. Dr. Claudia Luiz states “Doing puzzles is extremely satisfying not only because you are solving something, but also because you can control achieving the positive outcome.” Dr. Jim Horne states that jigsaw puzzles can even help you fall asleep at night. There seems to be a link between completing puzzles and emotional health.
There was a study carried out in 2016 that looked beyond jigsaw puzzles. The study set out to see if an immersive 3D video game could help lower adolescent anxiety. They found that “adolescent anxiety symptoms significantly decreased.” The interesting finding from this study was they compared 2 different video games. One game was designed to reduce anxiety while the other wasn’t. The researchers found that anxiety reduced in both games. The study suggested that the act of working out a video game seems to help with anxiety reduction.
There is still ongoing research into how the human brain interacts with puzzle games. There have been links found to help boost cognitive function and emotional health. But the evidence is not as clear cut as one would think it should be. With more research, we will continue to find better links between the brain and puzzle games. Researchers may even find the “perfect game” to help boost intelligence. Time will tell.