But does being good at Wordle mean you’re smarter than the average person, or even a fellow puzzler?
“Scrabble players recognize words faster, especially in vertical orientation, but we didn’t find that those advantages transferred to non-Scrabble-related tasks,” Pexman said. “As soon as you show them some other kind of visual pattern or symbol that’s not a letter, they look just like non-experts.”
The same applies to chess, she said. If chess pieces are not in their legal positions or if other information is presented on a chessboard, the player’s ability to visually scan and understand the board is no better than average.
“With brain training, the benefits are mostly quite specific,” Pexman said.
And if you’re playing Wordle in the hopes it might keep your brain from aging, research so far isn’t showing any significant widespread protection from vmost brain-training games, King added.
“That’s a problem that we have with cognitive training in general,” King said. “It’s hard to find training that translates to a long-term change in the brain that will hopefully protect you from cognitive impairment or decline or dementia.”
Maximizing Wordle’s benefits
Many people who enjoy doing Wordle, Scrabble, crossword or other types of puzzles are often high in what psychologists call a “need for cognition,” Pexman said.
“Some people just enjoy puzzles,” she said. “And we know that a need for cognition is different than intelligence. So it’s not necessarily something you do because you’re smart, it’s something you do because that’s what you enjoy.”
Playing Wordle is unlike playing crossword puzzles, King said, because you don’t need to know the meanings of words or even have a large vocabulary.
“It’s all five-letter words. But that said, you do need to be able to do a lot with those five-letter words,” King said. “We usually think of something like this is a deductive-reasoning task, which would probably be associated with activity in the frontal and prefrontal lobes of the brain.”
“It’s like a mental sketch pad where you hold the visual information in mind and you manipulate it, which is a particular skill some people have a lot of capacity for and other people less so,” Pexman said.
In addition to manipulating information in memory over a short period of time, “your ability to have attentional focus is also very much involved,” Seitz said.
“As soon as you begin using strategies to solve the puzzle, you’ve taken the load off of your attention and memory processes which may lessen Wordle’s potential benefits,” Seitz said.
“My general advice is to pick a brain activity that provides a challenge,” he added. “Then when you start feeling like you’re really good at it, pick another activity that gives you a new challenge. And so by kind of rotating across these different types of challenges, you get the variety that’s going to exercise your brain in different ways.”
Not a Wordle fan?
Research is beginning to show other activities work as well, Seitz added, such as learning to play a musical instrument, learning a second language or how to paint, cook and do photography.
“When people ask my advice about a strategy for a healthier brain I tell them that given what we know right now, learn a new thing every day,” Seitz said.
“I always say that if you take one finger and lift weights with it every single day, you’ll have a really strong finger. That applies to the brain as well, so challenge your brain in different ways.”