Riddles run circles round my brain

Riddles and brain teasers are an entertaining way to give your brain a workout and to improve your critical thinking skills. They’re also a fun distraction from the daily grind. In most dictionaries you’ll find a definition saying that a riddle is a question, puzzle, or verse so phrased that ingenuity is required for elucidation of the answer or meaning.

And, while to some of us riddles and brain teasers are an excellent way of having fun and passing time, they have been connected by various studies to your mental health. Brain teasers and riddles of various sorts teach you to think “outside of the box”. The methodology often requires you to take a step back and look at the whole picture, often re-read the whole task and find different, creative and precise ways to interpret it, and think of the solutions that are not the first thing that pops into your head. Prolonged exposure to this improves your concentration, your focus and generally makes you better at solving problems you are not familiar with.

Reorganization of thinking

Puzzles, riddles, brain teasers and similar activities increase neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the potential that the brain has to reorganize by creating new neural pathways to adapt, as it needs. Think of the neurological changes being made in the brain as the brain’s way of tuning itself to meet your needs. When nerve cells respond in new ways, it allows us more ability to see things from different points-of-view and comprehend them better. Our cognitive abilities are improved and we become aware of new patterns and ways of solving problems.

Research studies show both results

A lot of studies have been done on whether training your brain can increase your intelligence overall or whether it can improve your abilities to solve general problems. While everyone agrees that practicing solving a particular type of problem (like a riddle) will make you better at solving those types of problems, scientists have yet to prove a relationship between solving riddles and getting better at your day job.

On the other hand, many research studies have been made that show practicing your brain can improve your auditory and visual information processing speed (numbers from a Mayo Clinic report were going up to 58%). And if you think about it, it makes sense – a brain is an organ, and can be trained through a longer period of time to be better at the functions it is in charge of.

Riddles only?

For heaven’s sake, no! A lot of things will help your brain become better. As we all know, physical activity is good for the brain because it helps create new neurons. Keeping a healthy diet and getting enough sleep can only be of help, evidently. Basically – practicing any activity at all (e.g. juggling – improves your stamina, as well as your focus, your visual and motor activity!) will help your brain. So – doing a lot of riddles, puzzles and brain teasers can’t do any harm for sure!

No real conclusions

There were studies that show connection between riddles and overall brain activity improvement. There was also a brilliant (!!) study in Croatia recently showing that the number of tourists visiting the coastline in the summer correlates with the average temperature and increases with global warming. So, the next time Earth gets warmer by one degree Celsius, Croatia will get e.g. 1 million more tourists! (The numbers I made up, but the study was there!).

Scientists have not (yet!) proven that there is a direct link between solving puzzles, riddles, brain teasers, and the general function of your brain. On the other hand, some research, as well as some of their conclusions indicate that it might be connected.

I am not a doctor nor a scientists, so can’t really place myself on either side here. However, I am a computer programmer who loves riddles. And, on top of loving riddles, I love to hear the fact they might actually help my brain.


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