January might be International Brain Teaser Month, but no matter the time of year and no matter our age, our brains love to be teased! Brains are built to enjoy the novelty of a wide variety of challenges. Attempts to overcome those challenges keep our brains limber and help slow agerelated cognitive decline.
Whether it is a puzzle-like a sudoku or a crossword, a mental challenge like a riddle or logic puzzle, or a device like a Rubik’s Cube, it is beneficial whenever we force our brains to overcome a task or learn something new.
Our brains find novelty, or the quality of learning something new, original, or unusual, powerfully attractive. Novelty is not just related to new games or overcoming unique tasks. Newness takes many forms — hearing a new song, buying a new outfit, traveling to a new place — and is almost always accompanied by a rush of dopamine to the brain. Through this chemical rush, novelty makes us happy.
Yet, as soon as a song gets overplayed, an outfit becomes outdated, or a new place becomes familiar, we find ourselves restless, seeking novelty once again. Brain teasers often offer our brains tiny daily doses of novelty.
The crossword puzzles and sudoku found in the newspapers certainly challenge our creative thinking, but even these can become routine and lose their novelty. This is why experts believe it is best to challenge your brain with different types of brain teasers.
Learning a new board game is one type of challenge. Trying a new sport, practicing a new hobby, or even attempting to learn a musical instrument is another type of brain teaser.
Furthermore, trying something new with a group of friends stretches your brain even more because now you must not only overcome a new challenge but also navigate social dynamics. The science is clear that there is no single type of brain teaser that will keep our brains young and sharp. Luckily, society offers an almost infinite variety of experiences that offer novel challenges to our hungry brains.