Aug. 19, 2011 at 2:36 PM ET
A new study confirms what Scrabble players have long suspected: We really are smarter than the rest of you.
Researchers at the University of Calgary have discovered that competitive Scrabble players are able to increase visual word recognition -- the ability to read individual words -- well into adulthood.
“Visual word recognition is a difficult skill to master, and it develops from childhood through adulthood,” study author Ian Hargreaves, a graduate student from the University of Calgary, wrote in an e-mail. “Most of the previous research on word recognition has used adulthood (essentially, undergraduate students, as these are the participants in most research studies) as the model for the end-point of development.”
“Our study helps shine some light on how even in adulthood, visual word recognition is flexible, and can be modified with dedicated training.”
In one of the study’s tasks, research participants were presented with a series of words, oriented both vertically and horizontally. Subject participants were asked to guess which words were valid words, with their responses timed.
Other tasks included creating anagrams (A Manic’s Errant Gag?) and creating words beginning with a certain letter.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Scrabble players bested the control group in every category related to Scrabble. Hargreaves noted that his group took great pains to make Scrabble experience the independent variable, accounting for a wide variety of factors including age, vocabulary, exposure to printed materials and speed of perceptual processing.
The findings are notable because little research has been done into progress in visual word recognition past early adulthood. (Most studies are completed using the most available of test subjects: undergrads.)
The game of Scrabble, it appears, can actively improve word recognition in an adult mind. Hargreaves observed study participants of adult ages showing extraordinarily intellectual dexterity in the categories tested.
“I think that it's safe to say that there is plenty of evidence showing that exercising yourself, whether physically or mentally, can carry positive benefits,” Hargreaves added. “What these results suggest is that with dedicated practice, even seemingly basic skills (like deciding if something is a real word or not) can be shaped by experience.”
Hargreaves doesn’t necessarily believe this super-intelligence can be passed on to crossword aficionados and players of Words With Friends.
“The extent to which these Scrabble-specific skills transfer to other areas of reading and memory is something that we hope to continue investigating,” Hargreaves said.