What’s the name of that actor in that one movie? How do I spell that word? Who was the president during World War II?
These are questions I ask myself often as I stare down a grid of numbered squares and try to deduce the answers to a series of clues that test my intelligence.
That’s right, I enjoy tackling crossword puzzles, and recently I’ve become addicted to the brainteasers. I compulsively fill in answers, which can become unreadable if I make a mistake and have to scratch out letters and replace them with correct choices.
Often, I approach the puzzle as a race. I try to complete it as quickly as possible, and it frustrates me when I take longer than I think I should.
To some, my craving for these games found in the pages of the newspapers I read might seem unhealthy, but it’s not. At least I’m not staring at my phone as much, and research supports my belief that the puzzles benefit my brain.
According to a research article published in Activities, Adaptation & Aging, “puzzle working not only provides an opportunity to exercise their mind to solve cognitive challenges, but also elicits emotional and social benefits.”
Also, as published in the Journal of Effective Teaching in Higher Education, doing crosswords can help a person retain more knowledge. Based on an article in Inc. by Jessica Stillman, the crossword does a better job of bolstering one’s intellectual acuity than the “brain training” games advertised all over the Internet and social media.
Stillman was writing about research from Columbia and Duke Universities, and that study found “crossword puzzles showed superior efficacy to games in the cognitive outcome.”
Such leisurely activities include other puzzles such as Sodoku and Jumble, and they exercise the brain in important ways. For example, one study found doing brain-stimulating tasks improved processing speed, short-term memory, working memory, problem-solving, and reasoning.
Additionally, doing crossword puzzles keeps me grounded. It makes me realize I’m not as smart as I might think I am. Daryl Van Tongeren, associate professor of psychology at Hope College, refers to this as intellectual humility.
Writing for The Conversation, Tongeren described this concept as follows: “Within yourself, intellectual humility involves awareness and ownership of the limitations and biases in what you know and how you know it. It requires a willingness to revise your views in light of strong evidence. Interpersonally, it means keeping your ego in check so you can present your ideas in a modest and respectful manner. It calls for presenting your beliefs in ways that are not defensive and admitting when you’re wrong. It involves showing that you care more about learning and preserving relationships than about being ‘right’ or demonstrating intellectual superiority.”
Society could use more of this intellectual humility. We are too divided, and we start with the assumption we are right and people on the other side of a debate or issue are wrong. Instead, we need to be more open-minded, willing to accept that we don’t know everything, and tolerant of others.
It’ll take effort on our part, but we can start developing more intellectual humility and begin improving society. The first step in generating a streak of humility could be simply doing the crossword.
Todd R. Vogts, Ph.D., is a native of Canton, a resident of McPherson County, and an assistant professor of media at Sterling College. He can be contacted with questions or comments via his website at www.toddvogts.com.