Recent research shows that brain teasers don't make you smarter and don't belong in job interviews because they don't reflect real-world problems.
- There is little research to prove that brain games improve general cognition or slow cognitive decline. Rather they simply make you better at playing that specific brain game.
- Brain teasers are a useless tool during job interviews as they can't predict how an interviewee will perform in real world tasks relevant to the job role.
- Exercise, nutrition, socialization, and meditation are probably better brain boosters.
Brain training apps and programs have sky-rocketed into a billion-dollar market over the past decade. While the promise of revving up intelligence is certainly alluring, the research as to whether or not they actually do anything for your cognitive abilities is dubious.
Why brain training apps dont boost cognition
A 2017 study conducted by a team of psychologists at Florida State University sought to learn whether brain training games could boost "working memory" in subjects, and consequently the cognitive abilities of reasoning, memory, and processing speed. One group of participants played a brain-training video game called "Mind Frontiers," while another group played crossword games or number puzzles.
"Our findings and previous studies confirm there's very little evidence these types of games can improve your life in a meaningful way," said Wally Boot, an expert on age-related cognitive decline at FSU who was involved in the study. Another 2017 report monitoring the cognitive skills, brain activity, and decision-making abilities of young adults, concluded that brain-training games "do not boost cognition."
What brain games likely do is make you better at playing that specific brain game. Learning is the result of two potential processes that happen to neuron cells in the brain. One is called "long term potentiation," in which already existing connections between neurons are strengthened by firing together in reaction to incoming signals. The other is called "dendritic spine growth." In this process, neurons form new connections with each other by wiring together through a process in which the surface area of dendrites (antenna-like structures that make up the receiving end of a neuron) increases allowing for more neurons to connect with one another.
In short, "cells that fire together wire together," and when you play brain games, neural connections in the brain network that are engaged while performing the tasks in the game are strengthened. Thus, you may become a genius at solving a particular word puzzle, but there is little evidence to suggest that you will become any better at other puzzles, let alone enhance your cognitive abilities in general. And because those puzzles are so decontextualized from situations you would likely encounter in real life, they are probably useless.
This was backed up by a 2018 study in which neuroscientists at Western University in Ontario, Canada, investigated if the cognitive skills acquired from brain-training tasks could be transferred to other tasks that engage the same brain regions. They found no evidence to support that idea. In fact, video games may do more for your brain.
Brain teasers don't reflect future job performanceGoogle logo
So brain puzzles may not do much to boost IQ, but does the ability to work through brain teasers predict intellect or job performance? Afterall, Google, once notorious for its use of brain teasers in job interviews, decided they were "a complete waste of time" years ago. (A list of some of the tech giant's interview questions can be found here, for those curious.)
"They don't predict anything," Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google, told the New York Times in 2013. "They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart."
The reason is that while the brain teasers may measure how fast an individual can generate a smart or accurate solution to an abstract problem under pressure, they have little to do with future problems the employee will encounter in the job. Furthermore, the environment in which the brain teaser is asked favors certain personality traits that may be irrelevant to job performance and which do not necessarily reflect intelligence. For example, an introvert whose nerves may impede his or her ability to communicate a quick and creative solution in the context of a job interview. Or, perhaps, a detail, sensory-oriented individual whose problem-solving strength lies in tangible and immediate situations rather than abstract imaginings.
In short, an employee who can come up with high quality ideas and solutions in situations relevant to a specific job role is far more valuable than one who can come up with a fast idea to a brain teaser that has nothing to do with the company's goals.
Better brain boosters
The science on brain training games and teasers is a mixed bag. However, if you're looking for more effective ways to boost your cognition or prevent cognitive decline, here are some that are better backed by research:
- Run or walk. Several studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that govern thinking and memory are greater in volume in individuals who regularly exercise as opposed to those who don't. What's more, some research has found that engaging in regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months to a year is correlated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions. Most of this research has focused on aerobic exercise.
- Meditate. Multiple studies have shown that regular mindfulness meditation increases grey matter in the brain, which equates with more neuronal activity and better performance, in certain areas. Research has also found that mindfulness meditation improves cognition.
- Socialize. Frequent social activity may help to delay cognitive decline in old age and boost current cognition. This is because social situations and the development of relationships requires our minds to engage multiple neural networks that are relevant to healthy daily function.
- Prioritize nutrition. "Brain-boosting" foods like fish, dark chocolate, antioxidant-rich berries, and foods with B vitamins like eggs can help build and repair brain cells.
Logic puzzles can teach reasoning in a fun way that doesn't feel like work.
- Logician Raymond Smullyan devised tons of logic puzzles, but one was declared by another philosopher to be the hardest of all time.
- The problem, also known as the Three Gods Problem, is solvable, even if it doesn't seem to be.
- It depends on using complex questions to assure that any answer given is useful.
Despite the general dislike of mathematics that most profess to have, many people enjoy logic puzzles. This is strange, as many logic puzzles are just variations of math problems. Gleefully ignorant of this fact, many mathaphobes will try to solve riddles and puzzles of tremendous difficulty using reasoning tools they fear to employ when the subject is an equation.
Today, we'll look at a puzzle, the polymath who devised it, and why you should consider picking up a book of logical puzzles next time you are at the library.
This puzzle was written by the brilliant logician Raymond Smullyan. Born in New York 101 years ago, Smullyan earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago and his doctorate in mathematics at Princeton, where he also taught for a few years.
An extremely prolific writer, he published several books on logic puzzles for popular consumption and an endless stream of textbooks and essays for an academic audience on logic. His puzzle books are well regarded for introducing people to complex philosophical ideas, such as Gödel's incompleteness theorems, in a fun and non-technical way.
Skilled in close-up magic, Smullyan once worked as a professional magician. He was also an accomplished pianist and an amateur astronomer who built his own telescope. Besides his interest in logic, he also admired Taoist philosophy and published a book on it for a general audience.
He also found the time to appear on Johnny Carson, where, as in many of his books, he argued that people who like his puzzles claim to dislike math only because they don't realize that they are one and the same.
The Three Gods Problem
One of the more popular wordings of the problem, which MIT logic professor George Boolos said was the hardest ever, is:
"Three gods A, B, and C are called, in no particular order, True, False, and Random. True always speaks truly, False always speaks falsely, but whether Random speaks truly or falsely is a completely random matter. Your task is to determine the identities of A, B, and C by asking three yes-no questions; each question must be put to exactly one god. The gods understand English, but will answer all questions in their own language, in which the words for yes and no are da and ja, in some order. You do not know which word means which."
Boolos adds that you are allowed to ask a particular god more than one question and that Random switches between answering as if they are a truth-teller or a liar, not merely between answering "da" and "ja."
Give yourself a minute to ponder this; we'll look at a few answers below. Ready? Okay.
George Boolos' solution focuses on finding either True or False through complex questions.
In logic, there is a commonly used function often written as "iff," which means "if, and only if." It would be used to say something like "The sky is blue if and only if Des Moines is in Iowa." It is a powerful tool, as it gives a true statement only when both of its components are true or both are false. If one is true and the other is false, you have a false statement.
So, if you make a statement such as "the moon is made of Gorgonzola if, and only if, Rome is in Russia," then you have made a true statement, as both parts of it are false. The statement "The moon has no air if, and only if, Rome is in Italy," is also true, as both parts of it are true. However, "The moon is made of Gorgonzola if, and only if, Albany is the capitol of New York," is false, because one of the parts of that statement is true, and the other part is not (The fact that these items don't rely on each other is immaterial for now).
In this puzzle, iff can be used here to control for the unknown value of "da" and "ja." As the answers we get can be compared with what we know they would be if the parts of our question are all true, all false, or if they differ.
Boolos would have us begin by asking god A, "Does "da" mean yes if and only if you are True if and only if B is Random?" No matter what A says, the answer you get is extremely useful. As he explains:
"If A is True or False and you get the answer da, then as we have seen, B is Random, and therefore C is either True or False; but if A is True or False and you get the answer ja, then B is not Random, therefore B is either True or False… if A is Random and you get the answer da, C is not Random (neither is B, but that's irrelevant), and therefore C is either True or False; and if A is Random...and you get the answer ja, B is not random (neither is C, irrelevantly), and therefore B is either True or False."
No matter which god A is, an answer of "da" assures that C isn't Random, and a response of "ja" means the same for B.
From here, it is a simple matter of asking whichever one you know isn't Random questions to determine if they are telling the truth, and then one on who the last god is. Boolos suggests starting with "Does da mean yes if, and only if, Rome is in Italy?" Since one part of this is accurate, we know that True will say "da," and False will say "ja," if faced with this question.
After that, you can ask the same god something like, "Does da mean yes if, and only if, A is Random?" and know exactly who is who by how they answer and the process of elimination.
If you're confused about how this works, try going over it again slowly. Remember that the essential parts are knowing what the answer will be if two positives or two negatives always come out as a positive and that two of the gods can be relied on to act consistently.
Smullyan wrote several books with other logic puzzles in them. If you liked this one and would like to learn more about the philosophical issues they investigate, or perhaps if you'd like to try a few that are a little easier to solve, you should consider reading them. A few of his puzzles can be found with explanations in this interactive.
Playing and being creative shouldn't stop when you grow up.
- Growing up doesn't mean your life has to be all about work.
- Studies have shown that playing and being creative has numerous health benefits for adults of all ages.
- Simple exercises like drawing, finishing a puzzle, or taking breaks outdoors can have a positive impact on your life.
Peter Pan had the right idea: growing up is overrated. As adults we often forget to stop and have fun in between paying bills and being productive members of society. We're often stressed about our lives and the world around us, and after a while that mental anguish starts to take a toll on our bodies. There have been countless studies on the power of play and of mental and physical exercise. Here are some "childish" activities you should be doing to strengthen your mind, distract you from work, and keep you feeling young at heart.
With popular shows like LEGO Masters and films including "Beyond the Brick: A LEGO Brickumentary," it's clear that building with plastic bricks is not just a kids' sport. The popular interlocking pieces have been used in the past to reduce anxiety and stress, to inspire and promote creativity in the workplace, and to improve dexterity and coordination for patients with dementia. LEGO building is also a just fun way to spend a few hours alone or with family and friends!
In addition to being a great tool for calorie-burning cardio workouts, jump ropes help with coordination, can be more efficient for heart health than jogging, improve bone density, and decrease the risk of foot and ankle injuries. When shopping for one, make sure the handles are comfortable and that the length is adjustable (or specific to your height).
Researchers, teachers, and artists are starting to realize that drawing is more than an art form. Studies have shown that doodling increases memory and helps with focus, while more involved drawing exercises enhance one's understanding of concepts and objects. With this How-To book, you'll be upgrading those stick figures and reaping the benefits that drawing has to offer in no time.
According to the New York Times, 62 percent of professionals say they spend their lunch break eating at their desk. Taking a break away from a work environment gives you the chance to do just that: take a break. Sometimes a short walk and some fresh air is exactly what you need to feel creative and energized to make it through the day. Plastic bags are bad for the environment, and paper bags will make you look like a 3rd grader, but this lightweight neoprene bag is perfect for transporting for homemade meals to a park bench or somewhere your computer isn't. The bag keeps cold things cold and warm things warm for up to 4 hours, stores flat, is BPA free, and is also machine washable.
More than 164 million Americans play video games on their phones, computers, or gaming consoles. Hundreds of millions more dabble in gaming around the world. In addition to being a fun leisure activity, video games have been shown to have benefits for players of all ages. From increased gray matter in the hippocampus of people between the ages of 55 and 75, to improved performance on recognition memory tasks and a boost in keyboard proficiency, the diversity in video games today has created a vast library of useful tools that anyone can take advantage of.
A recent obsession among gamers is Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch. Build a community, collect materials, hang with cute creatures...this game has it all.
A 2018 study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience found that solving jigsaw puzzles "strongly engages multiple cognitive abilities," and that when practiced long term is a "potential protective factor for cognitive aging." The options are nearly endless when it comes to themes, shapes, and the number of pieces in a given puzzle, but we think this round puzzle of the Moon is both challenging and beautiful. When you're done, you can glue it and hang it on a wall, or take it apart and start over again.
The benefits of cycling are almost too many to list, but here are a few according to Harvard Medical, Cycling Weekly, and Bicycling.com: save on carbon emissions, increase muscle strength and joint mobility, decrease stress and body fat, explore your surroundings in a new way, and save money on fuel costs and maintenance. Oh yeah, and it can be a lot of fun!
It may seem like just another lazy day activity, but keeping that string and wind-catching material afloat can do a lot for your body and mind. According to Dr. Jeannie Kenkare of PhysicianOne Urgent Care, kite flying is great for eye stimulation, neck/shoulder exercise, stress relief, filling your lungs with fresh air, and reconnecting you with nature. This one is of a massive bird, because you also want to look cool doing it.
Journaling (or mature diary keeping) is a great way to track the progress of life goals and daily moods, to manage stress and anxiety, and to generally be more reflective in order to gain new perspectives. Journaling also helps strengthen your organizational skills and can be used as a meditative practice.
Published in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, a 2005 study involving 84 college students found that coloring a plaid form and complex geometric patterns (mandalas) reduced stress levels by inducing a "meditative state." The study also found that these exercises were more effective stress reducers than free-form coloring on a blank page. Coloring also benefits older adults by improving motor function and vision.
When you buy something through a link in this article Big Think earns a small affiliate commission. Thank you for supporting our team's work.