Here's a puzzle worthy of an IQ test: Why have scores on IQ tests risen
by about 30 points since these assessments became widespread? People have lots of theories about the so-called Flynn Effect
, but Julian Lyles Bass-Krueger, 14, of Clinton, NY, attributes it to the "increased cognitive complexity of our environment." A key culprit? Tetris.
Yes, this addictive game
that has you rotating shapes to fit into a grid until you go mad may actually be making you smarter. Past studies have found that when people play Tetris
initially, they use more glucose, suggesting that their brains are working hard
. Over time, though, glucose usage returns to normal. In other words, the brain has to work less hard the more it practices. It becomes primed to solve related problems quickly.
Bass-Krueger wanted to test how large this effect was. He had some of his several dozen subjects play Tetris
for 15 minutes. Then he gave everyone a spatial reasoning test similar to those used in IQ assessments. The results were staggering: Tetris players scored more than 55% higher than the control group. "Even in 15 minutes it can still have an effect," Bass-Krueger told us here in Atlanta at the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair
, where he presented his results. (That doesn't mean their overall IQ went up that much, of course; the spatial reasoning test is just a small fraction of an IQ test.)
The idea that games can boost brain power "“ as measured by IQ tests "“ raises interesting questions. On the minus side, it suggests that some intelligence tests can be, well, gamed ("it depends how you define
intelligence," Bass-Krueger says). On the positive side, such brain games could be used to boost brain function in people suffering from Alzheimer's
and other diseases.
Regardless, it should surprise no one that, given the relationship between brain games and high IQ scores, "almost everybody at [ISEF] that I've talked to plays Tetris," Bass-Krueger says. He, too, admits to playing the game, though not that much. "I play in between writing paragraphs in essays," he says.
Edited by Laura Vanderkam at 05/15/2008 2:20 PM