Brain Teasers and Other Games: The Benefits and Myths

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Brain teasers, games, puzzles, and riddles have been with us for hundreds of years. They are a great way to give yourself some mental exercise. Brain training games and mobile apps have become increasingly popular in recent years. But do they live up to all the hype?

Let’s find out.

Later, we’ll look at some of the supposed benefits of doing brain teasers and other games before assessing how accurate some of the claims concerning them are. First, let’s define what they actually are and look at the differences between riddles, teasers, and brain games.

Brain games, brain teasers, and riddles

People sometimes imagine that these three ways of exercising your brain are the same. While they are indeed akin to one another, there are some subtle differences.

Brain games

These are games that allow players to practice specific skills and exercise their memory, critical thinking, attention span, and logic skills, to name a few. These are fun games with a range of added benefits — from developing your problem-solving skills and sharpening your reasoning skills to improving your attention to detail.

As you practice various games, your brain adapts and you improve at them. This cognitive workout is thought to help improve your cognitive function and keep the brain young.

Brain teasers

Brain teasers are brain games or puzzles which often require you to think laterally. You must use creative thinking to solve them and learn to think around corners. They are a fabulous way to boost your memory and have fun at the same time.

There are various visual brain teasers you can try, but they all involve some visual thinking. People may be asked to find particular objects or spot patterns. Doing these puzzles can promote creativity and abstract thinking, as well as test your ability to problem-solve.

Logic puzzles are another kind of brain teaser you can try. You are presented with a string of clues and have to work out the solution. These puzzles test your ability to reason and encourage critical thinking.  

Riddles

Typically, riddles are statements, questions, or phrases which have a veiled or double meaning. They are posed as puzzles to be solved.

What am I riddles are tricky. They normally employ a single sentence or phrase and you have to guess what it refers to. More challenging riddles are more serious brain training exercises designed to test your ability to solve problems in a short time.

Now let’s pinpoint the differences between them.

What’s the difference?

It’s not unusual to get mixed up between brain teasers, games, and riddles. Here’s a good way to think about it.

  • A brain game or puzzle is something designed to test your ingenuity or knowledge. It must be solved through logical reasoning.
  • A brain teaser is a kind that must be solved by exercising creative thinking.
  • A riddle, on the other hand, is devised to make you think and is usually a single statement, question, or phrase. This too can be solved through logical reasoning and has a correct answer.  

They all exist to challenge someone and can help broaden your knowledge and increase your critical thinking and reasoning skills. The main difference between them, however, is that brain teasers and riddles are usually verbal, whereas puzzles are not always. Brain teasers are spoken, and brain games and puzzles can be tangible. Sometimes maths puzzles can be written as well, though.

Now we can distinguish between them, it’s time to explore how you may benefit from them.

Photo by ALAN DE LA CRUZ on Unsplash

Benefits of riddles, brain teasers, and games     

Before we turn to the question of whether and how far doing puzzles of this type can truly benefit you and tackle some common myths about them, here are 7 supposed upsides I’ve been able to find.

They can help boost your memory

As we discovered when investigating crosswords, solving puzzles, including brain teasers and riddles helps to strengthen existing neural pathways and create new connections. One consequence of this is an improvement in short-term working memory.  They can also serve to improve your overall cognitive function. Though, as we will see a little later, the question of whether they help prevent brain diseases like Alzheimer’s is debatable.

Improve your vocabulary 

Riddles can help improve your vocabulary, as you are often exposed to new thought processes, new words, and new ways you can use words you already know. This can be especially useful for children.

They give you a full brain workout

Doing brain games, teasers and riddles give your whole brain a workout. It exercises both the logical side and creative side of your brain, which means you can improve your analytical skills and unlock your creativity.

Improve your problem-solving skills

You can hone your problem-solving skills by engaging in these puzzles because they demand that you come up with new, original solutions to problems and can test your ability to think critically.

They may make you happier

Doing riddles and brain teasers can improve your mood. They are good activities to enjoy with family and friends as well as alone and can help make you happier that way. Dopamine, the neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, is also released when you complete a brain teaser or solve a riddle.

They can help decrease your stress level

Completing brain games and puzzles helps calm the mind. By focusing on a single task, our minds can relax and we feel less anxious and stressed. This is a great way to manage your mental health and make sure you don’t become overwhelmed. Doing jigsaws and solving crosswords can help reduce stress too.

They can improve your visual-spatial reasoning

Doing a puzzle a day can’t solve all of life’s problems, but it may be a good way to hone your visual-spatial reasoning skills and may help improve your sense of direction.

Next, let’s tackle some myths about brain teasers and determine what they can really do for you.

Tackling myths and misconceptions: What can brain teasers do for you?    

Few things about the brain are black and white. That includes how effective brain games are. It seems how much someone benefits from doing brain games and teasers depends on a number of factors. These include:

  • Who plays them and why.
  • What type of brain game they play.
  • How long or how often the games are played.
  • How intensely someone focuses on the game.

Thus, some people have shown cognitive improvement after solving puzzles and others have not. More research needs to be conducted before we can determine whether brain training, puzzles, and games can benefit everyone.

If we turn to the question of the known benefits of brain games and teasers, it’s true that if you play certain games you will improve the skills required to play those games. The trouble is that often, the skill or skill set you are improving is very specific and may not prove helpful when you apply those skills to other areas of your life.

Take heart, though. Doing brain games is not a total waste of time. By playing the same games repeatedly you can actually change the way your brain works. You can increase the neuroplasticity of your brain. That is, your brain’s ability to change its structure, chemistry, and even function in response to change. This means your brain is changing and adapting to improve the skills you need to get better at that particular game.

You should remember that there are other ways you can keep your mind sharp if you have doubts about how effective brain teasers and games are. You can take up a musical instrument, get involved in a book club, volunteer, or even play some board games. If you combine doing these activities with some other healthy lifestyle habits like getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly, you might give your brain a boost.

With this in mind, let’s look at 3 common claims made about brain teasers, riddles, and games.

Can brain games improve your memory?

Research into whether doing brain teasers and games improves your memory has so far been inconclusive.  Though it seems that games designed to boost your memory can improve the specific skill it tests. For example, if the object of a game is to recognise and remember patterns, you will get better at doing that over time. This doesn’t guarantee that your memory for other things will also improve.

Can playing these games slow cognitive decline?

Brain games could actually help slow cognitive decline according to a study done in 2014. People may benefit from memory and reasoning training. The longer you practice these games, the more pronounced the benefits are likely to be.

Can brain teasers help prevent Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s results from several factors, some of which we have no control over. Therefore, it’s impossible to promise that doing brain teasers will help prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia. More research needs to be done into brain games before we can claim this.

While brain games might not have as many benefits as you might have imagined, there’s no reason not to enjoy doing them as a cheap, mentally stimulating hobby.

Wrapping Up

If you were on the fence on whether to take up this pastime, perhaps you now have a better idea of the different ways you can have fun with brain teasers and other games. You may also have an inkling of which of the variations you’re likely to enjoy the most, now that you’re aware of the subtle differences. Remember that you may still see improvement in your memory, reasoning, and analytical skills if you do these often, even though we’ve busted a few myths about them. So why not try solving a few brain teasers or creating some riddles today? You might just find it’s great fun!  

Published by Lizzie

Lizzie here. I'm a freelance copywriter and editor based in the UK. I'm also passionate about volunteering and hold a MA in History from the University of Warwick. I've written for a multitude of fantastic websites and companies, including a legal automation software company, a dog training site and more. Check out my reviews on Fiverr and Upwork for more info!

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