The simplicity of jigsaw puzzles is deceptive. While the concept is very straightforward – find the pieces and fix them together – there is a surprising level of mental activity required to carry out the steps needed to complete a puzzle. Psychological studies have identified a number of thought processes that are required to undertake what is in fact a complex process of identifying shapes and images and relating them to an overall pattern. More importantly, solving jigsaw puzzles is a great work out for the brain and can actually have therapeutic benefits. These benefits include:
Problem Solving Skills. Resolving the shapes and coloured patterns that make up the overall pictures, including the revolving of the pieces, relates to the kind of basic problem solving evolution has equipped us to deal with on a subconscious level. Our ancestors relied on the ability to recognise shapes and patterns in world around them and spot potential predators and hazards as a key to survival. Completing a jigsaw puzzle taps in to the same fundamental processes, but in a calm and controlled environment.
Enhances Self Evaluation. Trying to see how pieces fit and re-assessing where they might go when they don’t fit is a good exercise in checking and re-evaluating choices. Each piece can only go in to one place so there is none of the compromising and trading-off that takes place in so many other aspects of modern life. This forces the player to constantly re-evaluate their decisions, and teaches patience with the process as it is an integral part of the game.
Improves Learning Abilities. The more a person plays jigsaw puzzles, the better they get at recognising shape, form and colour and the quicker they become. This is a basic learning structure that then passes in to other aspects of their lives. In effect the brain is like a muscle, and the more it works, the stronger it becomes.
Helps With Overall Perception and Understanding. Learning to assemble an overall image from partial pieces when only part of the image is in place, is a skill that translates in to many areas of life. Often, only a certain amount of information about a situation is available and being able to make judgements and draw conclusions is a fundamental practice in coping successfully with the world around us.
Fulfillment. Our modern lives can often seem a whirlwind of activity where we constantly move from one activity to the next without seeming to draw breath. Completing a jigsaw puzzle provides a tonic to this hectic pace, where a period of quiet problem solving ends with the satisfaction of seeing the finished puzzle. This reduces stress and provides a feeling of well-being.
Dementia Treatment. Dementia patients are suffering from a disease where the brain tissue is deteriorating and the functions that reside in those areas are lost. All of the above benefits amount to a workout for the brain, causing the brain cells to work hard. This type of mental activity slows down the onset of dementia by keeping more parts of the brain active for longer.
This level of cognitive complexity does much to explain why so many people are happy to spend hours at a time working on jigsaw puzzles. What seems one of the simplest of activities is in fact an extremely absorbing and therapeutic brain exercise with many hidden benefits. Playing physical puzzles or jigsaw puzzles online is a beneficial activity for kids and adults alike.