Can solving jigsaw puzzles make you more intelligent?

by Rebecca Israel, MS & Sabrina Drumond. Reviewed by Charles Li, MD

July 24, 2020

  • In a study, participants who assembled jigsaw puzzles the quickest also scored highest on visual and spatial cognition tests.

  • Lifetime puzzle use is more beneficial for intelligence than short-term experience with puzzles.

  • Intellectually intense activities, like puzzles, in early and mid life are associated with a reduced odds of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Jigsaw puzzles and intelligence title

How often do you solve puzzles? Some people only bring out a puzzle after finishing their favorite show on Netflix. Others solve puzzles habitually, maybe even posting their work on Instagram or Youtube. Puzzles are not only enjoyable, but they are good for you. In this article, we explore the link between puzzles and intelligence.

Jigsaw puzzles and intellectual abilities

Researchers wanted to measure the real-world benefits of puzzle skill and lifetime puzzle use. To do so, they conducted a randomized trial with 100 healthy adults, aged 50 or older, from Germany. The puzzle group solved puzzles at least an hour a day for 30 days, attended four sessions of cognitive health counseling, and reported on their past puzzle use. The counseling group attended the four sessions and reported their past puzzle use, but did not participate in the home-base puzzle intervention.

Puzzle skill was measured by the time it took to complete a 40-piece puzzle. Intellectual ability was measured as visual and spatial cognition. This included measures of flexibility, perception, working memory, mental rotation, and reasoning.

Puzzle skill was associated with all assessed cognitive abilities (rs ≥ 0.45, ps < 0.001), and global visuospatial cognition (r = 0.80 [95% CI: 0.72–0.86], p < 0.001).

Source: Jigsaw Puzzling Taps Multiple Cognitive Abilities and Is a Potential Protective Factor for Cognitive Aging

There was a positive association between puzzles skills and intellectual abilities. Subjects who assembled puzzles the quickest also scored highest on all the visual and spatial cognition tests. This implies that the intelligence used as a skilled jigsaw puzzle solver may also transfer to other tasks.

Lifetime puzzle experience was associated with global visuospatial cognition, even after accounting for other risk and protective factors (β = 0.34 [95% CI: 0.18–0.50], p < 0.001).

The data tells us that puzzles are a good way of engaging multiple intellectual skills. Interestingly, the puzzle group who practiced solving puzzles for 30 days straight showed insignificant improvement in their intellectual or puzzles solving skills by the end of the study. This indicates that lifetime puzzle use is more beneficial for intelligence than short-term experience with puzzles.

Why are intellectual activities important?

Millions of older adults in the United States are living with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia. There are no proven ways to prevent dementia. However, research is building on health behaviors with the potential to reduce the prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Dementia is the general term for a group of brain disorders that cause memory problems and make it hard to think clearly. Alzheimer disease is the most common cause of dementia. It is a disorder in which brain cells slowly die over time.

UpToDate

We found a quality study that illustrates the protective factor of jigsaw puzzles and other intellectual activities. The study recruited 193 participants from ages 20 to 60 with probable or possible Alzheimer’s disease and 358 healthy participants. Researchers collected data on participant’s intellectual, passive, and physical activities.

The healthy participants were more active in all activity types during midlife than participants with probable or possible Alzheimer’s disease.

The healthy participants were more active in all activity types during midlife than participants with probable or possible Alzheimer’s disease. Most notably, time devotion to intellectual activities, like jigsaw puzzles, from early adulthood (20–39) to middle adulthood (40–60) was significantly associated with the odds of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Participants who increased intellectual activities in early to middle adulthood saw a decline in risk, while participants who decreased intellectual activities saw a rise in risk.

We conclude that diversity of activities and intensity of intellectual activities were reduced in patients with Alzheimer's disease... These findings may be because inactivity is a risk factor for the disease or because inactivity is a reflection of very early sub-clinical effects of the disease, or both.

Pick up a puzzle

It is never a bad day to start a puzzle. Jigsaw puzzles are one of many activities that promote cognitive and intellectual health. Similar studies have associated a reduce risk of dementia with reading, hobbies, and close friendships. As more studies are published, we will continue to learn about the different ways of reducing dementia risk.

key takeaways of puzzle solvers and intelligence
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