science

Jigsaw puzzles make you smarter – and I’m living proof | Arwa Mahdawi


If you looked at my Google search history (which I would obviously never let anyone do), an alarming percentage of it would consist of variations of: “Is X actually good for you?” With X being whichever bad habit I’m engaged in. The amazing thing about the internet is that you can always find a random study that justifies anything. Is binge-watching Netflix actually good for you? Why yes, experts have said that it’s a healthy way of destressing. Is being a night owl who hits the snooze button 15 times every morning a sign you’re a genius? Why yes, a 2009 study has found intelligent children are more likely to grow up to be nocturnal adults.

My latest adventures in confirmation bias are centred on jigsaw puzzles. At the beginning of the pandemic, everyone got obsessed with 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles; they were flying off the shelves like toilet paper. Losers, I thought at the time. Why would anyone over the age of eight and under the age of 108 bother piecing together a stupid picture? You know what comes next: I reached the stage of pandemic despair where I became addicted to puzzles. My idea of a wild night is now crouching over a table, rummaging through a cardboard box and going “Ooh!” when I locate the right piece. Depressingly, I also seem to have reached an age where it is possible to strain a neck muscle from overenthusiastic puzzling.

So, is my latest hobby a complete waste of time? My partner says yes; science says no. Research suggests puzzles can help increase concentration and sharpen your memory. And, according to one study, doing jigsaws “recruits multiple visuospatial cognitive abilities and is a protective factor for visuospatial cognitive ageing”. I have no idea what that means, but it sounds like a great excuse to order another puzzle.



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