Mathematical games, like chess and Go, have long been known to enhance people’s reasoning skills.
But the same cognitive abilities also help them to solve mathematical problems, a new study suggests.
A study of 1,942 people by researchers at the University of Chicago suggests that people who play games with their brains also find these games more enjoyable.
“We found that cognitive abilities may be more important in the enjoyment of math games than in other aspects of games, including the experience of playing the game itself,” study co-author James K. Meehan, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the university, said in a statement.
Meeshan and his colleagues were looking for clues about the relationship between cognition and enjoyment in math games.
In a meta-analysis, they looked at all the studies they could find about the cognitive and social effects of math and related games, and also found that there was a clear link between both.
The researchers focused on “math games” because, in the words of the abstract, “mathematical games are often considered a core part of a person’s repertoire of cognitive activities, as they provide an opportunity to learn and improve a skill or solve a problem.”
The study was published online in Psychological Science.
“Our study shows that cognitive ability, like IQ, may be an important factor in the overall enjoyment of mathematical games,” the authors write.
Mays, a professor of psychology at the City University of New York, is also a member of the research team.
“These games, while often considered fun, are also cognitively challenging and can be frustrating to some,” Mees said in the study’s abstract.
“For example, in a game of chess, one has to take advantage of multiple pieces to advance to the next position, or to move a pawn into an empty square.
However, in this study, the cognitive tasks in math were significantly more difficult than in chess, suggesting that the cognitive processes underlying the enjoyment are more important than the game.”
The researchers found that those who play math games have significantly higher scores on measures of executive function, a measure of ability to reason.
The ability to think logically, which is often associated with higher IQ, also correlates with higher executive function scores.
The authors note that cognitive functions like executive function are important for managing mental health, as well as working out financial and social problems.
The findings of the study were published in the journal Psychological Science in April.
Mews said the findings are intriguing.
“If you’re a math player, you should not underestimate the value of playing with your mind, but if you’re not a math fan, I’d say you should just focus on what’s happening in front of your eyes and enjoy it,” he said.
The study also explored the relationship among cognitive abilities and the enjoyment in various types of games.
Mers, Mee, and Kuester used data from a survey of 1.4 million participants in the United States and Germany, the U.K. and the United Kingdom, and the U,S.A. The participants completed the Social Cognition Questionnaire (SCQ-20), which measures the degree to which people consider themselves to be smart, a combination of IQ and verbal skills.
The SCQ-19 is a more commonly used measure of executive functioning.
Muester and Mee collected data from the same survey.
They compared SCQ data from participants who played games with participants who did not.
The team found that people playing math games with cognitive abilities, like those of mathematicians, also reported higher scores in verbal reasoning, which indicates the ability to understand how others are thinking.
But they also reported lower scores in executive functioning, which reflects the ability, through a combination.
Mester and Kueter then combined these two scores to create a composite score, the “executive function composite,” which is a measure that incorporates executive function and the other measures of cognitive ability.
The composite score was then used to determine whether people’s enjoyment in these games was related to their cognitive abilities.
“The finding that cognitive skills are positively associated with enjoyment of games suggests that these games may be particularly rewarding to individuals who have higher cognitive abilities,” Mays said in an abstract.
Mains, who is also on the research teams, said he was not surprised by the results.
“People seem to be happy playing with their minds in general, and math is one of those games where you can actually be really creative with your skills,” he told The Verge.
“So we are definitely excited about the results and I would say that these cognitive abilities are certainly related to the enjoyment.”