What happens to your brain when you’re doing a puzzle?

In an increasingly digital age, it's easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of screens and constant stimulation. But amidst the noise, there's a quiet, analog activity that's been shown to have a profound impact on our minds: jigsaw puzzles. These deceptively simple puzzles have been a staple of family game nights and rainy days for generations, but they're more than just a nostalgic pastime.

Research has shown that jigsaw puzzles can have a profound impact on our cognitive abilities, from improving problem-solving skills and memory to reducing stress and anxiety.

In this blog, we'll explore the fascinating world of jigsaw puzzles and how they can benefit our brains in ways both surprising and significant. Whether you're a seasoned puzzle enthusiast or just looking for a new way to challenge yourself, we'll delve into the science behind the benefits of puzzles including sports jigsaw puzzles, and how it affects different aspects of brain functioning.


Here’s five ways jigsaw puzzles affect your brain:

1.    Improves Problem-Solving Skills:

Jigsaw puzzles require you to think critically and strategically. You need to analyze the puzzle pieces, understand how they fit together, and find the correct spot for each one. This process enhances your problem-solving skills, which can also benefit you in other areas, such as figuring out the best strategy for your next game of chess or solving a tricky math problem.


2.    Enhances Spatial Awareness:

Jigsaw puzzles help improve your spatial awareness, which is the ability to visualize objects in relation to each other. This skill is crucial in various sports puzzles like understanding the layout of a soccer field, a basketball court, or the arrangement of obstacles in an obstacle course race. One study on aging “found that JP (Jigsaw Puzzle) skill was highly associated with global visuospatial cognition and all measured visuospatial cognitive abilities indicating that solving JPs strongly taps multiple visuospatial cognitive processes including perception, constructional praxis, mental rotation, speed, flexibility, working memory, reasoning, and episodic memory.”


3.    Boosts Memory and Concentration:

Jigsaw puzzles require focus, attention, and memory. You need to remember the shapes, colors, and patterns of the sports puzzle pieces and where you last saw them. This concentration and memory exercise can benefit you in sports puzzles like remembering the rules, tactics, and strategies of your favorite sport or recalling your personal best times or scores.

And, there’s scientific evidence to back this up. The Bronx Aging Study, published in the Journal of International Neuropsychological Society, looked at memory decline in nearly 500 subjects. The participants were assessed for several cognitive factors while they completed crossword puzzles regularly.

The findings confirmed that puzzles affect the brain positively showing “that late life crossword puzzle participation, independent of education, was associated with delayed onset of memory decline in persons who developed dementia.”


  1. Increases Cognitive Flexibility:

Jigsaw puzzles often involve trial and error, and you need to adapt your approach as you go along. Maybe you won’t be able to start from the edges of the sports puzzle as you initially thought. You may have to start with that one strangely shaped white piece that fits more easily with some of the other puzzle pieces you recognize.


  1. Reduces Stress and Anxiety:

There are long Reddit forums discussing the de-stressing nature of piecing together jigsaw puzzles. Many share the sentiment that puzzles, including sports puzzles, help with their anxiety and relieve stress. There’s even some talk that it increases dopamine in the brain as well.

Well, it turns out that neuroscientists have confirmed that theory. In one study where participants were asked to do word puzzles while their brains were scanned as they reached that ‘aha’ moment, it was determined that “the rush of excitement that came with the moment of insight was produced by an influx of dopamine into a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens.” The research found that this part of the brain was active throughout the process of problem-solving, “but particularly so at the moment of insight.” It also notes that the nucleus accumbens is connected to a dopamine network that comes alive when people get a reward, like, for example, finding that missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

So, sports jigsaw puzzles do have a calming effect. It’s a leisure activity that can be very therapeutic. The repetitive motion of fitting the pieces together can be meditative, clearing your mind and reducing stress and anxiety levels.


Wrap Up

Jigsaw puzzles are more than just a fun and relaxing activity. They're a powerful tool for stimulating our brains and promoting cognitive health. By challenging ourselves to solve a sports puzzle, we can improve our problem-solving skills, enhance our memory and concentration, and even reduce stress and anxiety. Remember, the beauty of jigsaw puzzles, whether it’s a 500-piece or 1000-piece, lies not just in the finished product, but in the journey itself. The process of solving a puzzle is a meditation, a chance to quiet the mind and focus on the present moment. And when we take the time to engage in this activity, we're not just completing a puzzle – we're exercising our brains.



Jigsaw Puzzling Taps Multiple Cognitive Abilities and Is a Potential Protective Factor for Cognitive Aging - PMC (nih.gov)

Association of crossword puzzle participation with memory decline in persons who develop dementia - PubMed (nih.gov)

What happens in the brain during a 'eureka!' moment?. MedicalNewsToday.com


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