We have all heard that we are supposed to be improving our mental ability to succeed, regardless of what it is that you do, it’s difficult to get ahead unless that thing in your head is working the way it’s supposed to. Puzzles are a super effective and easily accessible way to exercise your mind. But did you ever wonder why exactly?
I’m sure you’ve all seen the articles swimming around the web time and again promoting the benefits of puzzles, how keeping the brain fit staves of an array of mental diseases and mental deterioration, the most prevalent example being Alzheimer’s. The benefits of puzzles are seemingly endless.
What we do know is that puzzles are fun, and the thrill of finally completing them hacks into what is colloquially known as the “Aha! Moment”. This is the sudden comprehension resulting in a new interpretation of a situation.
So, what is happening to us while we are trying to solve a puzzle?
Studies involving subjects presented with riddles demonstrated the riddle solvers showing several areas of the brain light up upon experiencing sudden insight (the “Aha!”). Subsequently, this “Aha moment” increased activity throughout the right anterior cingulated cortex. This cognitive process is actually the breakdown of a mental set, strengthening this thought process, resulting in a stronger connection.
What does this mean, and how can we utilize it?
The cingulate cortex is important for insight problem solving. Strengthening this connection means that you can use it more fluently in everyday life, with real problems. The brain is similar to a muscle, it can be developed to perform previously impossible tasks with proper training, and will deteriorate with non-use. Puzzles act like weights, the tools for strengthening and enhancing.
There is a whole range of puzzles targeting different areas, for example:
Sudoku: purely mathematical, activates the left hemisphere – the logic area of the brain
Crosswords: activating the left hemisphere, language center and word processing
Lateral puzzles and riddles: activating the left and right hemisphere, language center, spatial awareness and motor skills.
3D Puzzles: activating the right hemisphere, spatial awareness, motor skills and flexibility.
Logic puzzles: improves mental reasoning and acuity, focus, concentration and understanding.
These effect things such as enhanced visualization and co-ordination, improved memory, improved critical thinking, heightened creativity and dopamine production – the list is seemingly endless!
A simple rule of thumb would be one who is more predominantly “right brained” should seek to exercise the left side of the brain to improve acuity — these involve the commonly known ‘analytical’ puzzles. For “left brained” the opposite, exercising the right brain. These usually consist of brainteasers, puzzles and cognitive exercises, promoting brain improvement through use of creative visualization.
The bottom line is there are many different types of puzzles, amongst other things that you can utilize to expand your cognitive horizons. Regardless of what area you are hoping to improve, anything you can do to challenge and improve yourself will always be beneficial; connection is key, after all. So what are you waiting for? Get puzzling!