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In recent years interest has increased toward mental exercise as a way to promote healthy cognitive aging. Consistent findings have shown that declines in working memory performance are associated with aging. Sudoku is a popular puzzle game that has task demands similar to working memory processes. Younger and older adults completed a battery of tests and solved Sudoku puzzles. The results showed that Sudoku performance had a significant relationship to working memory. This suggests that Sudoku has the potential to become a new focus in the study of mental exercise and cognitive aging.
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Sudoku and Working Memory
Performance for Older Adults
Jeremy W. Grabbe
a
a
Psychology Department, State University of New York, Plattsburgh,
Hultsch, NY
Available online: 20 Sep 2011
To cite this article: Jeremy W. Grabbe (2011): Sudoku and Working Memory Performance for Older
Adults, Activities, Adaptation & Aging, 35:3, 241-254
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Activities, Adaptation & Aging, 35:241–254, 2011
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 0192-4788 print/1544-4368 online
DOI: 10.1080/01924788.2011.596748
Sudoku and Working Memory Performance
for Older Adults
JEREMY W. GRABBE
Psychology Department, State University of New York, Plattsburgh, Hultsch, NY
In recent years interest has increased toward mental exercise as a
way to promote healthy cognitive aging. Consistent findings have
shown that declines in working memory performance are associ-
ated with aging. Sudoku is a popular puzzle game that has task
demands similar to working memory processes. Younger and older
adults completed a battery of tests and solved Sudoku puzzles. The
results showed that Sudoku performance had a significant rela-
tionship to working memory. This suggests that Sudoku has the
potential to become a new focus in the study of mental exercise
and cognitive aging.
KEYWORDS Sudoku, working memory, compensation
Can mental exercise enhance cognitive abilities that are associated with
working memory? Studies have shown that cognitive engagement preserves
cognitive functioning in older adults (Hultsch, Hertzog, Small, & Dixon,
1999). Studies of plasticity and aging have shown that older adults can
improve performance and reduce age-related differences in cognitive ability
(Hultsch et al., 1999), or at least reduce the rate of decline. Much of the work
on plasticity focuses on mental exercise. An important step in the study of
mental exercise is examining for a possible connection between the form of
mental exercise and a cognitive domain. If a form of mental exercise has a
relationship to a specific domain of cognition then the next step is to exam-
ine if this mental exercise can be used to offset or slow age-related changes
in cognition as noted in the use-it-or-lose-it hypothesis (Schooler, 2007).
Recently, Ackerman, Kanfer, and Calderwood (2010) found that mental exer-
cise on a Nintendo Wii resulted in some improvements in domain-specific
cognitive performance. This study examined if the popular game Sudoku
Received 30 November 2010; accepted 27 May 2011.
Address correspondence to Dr. Jeremy W. Grabbe, Psychology Department, SUNY
Plattsburgh, 101 Broad Street, Plattsburgh, NY 12901. E-mail: jgrab001@plattsburgh.edu
241
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242 J. W. Grabbe
has a relationship with measures of fluid intelligence abilities such as work-
ing memory. Age-related declines in working memory have been observed
in numerous studies (Allain et al., 2007; Zeintl & Kliegel, 2007).
Working memory involves executive function such as planning and
supervision of attention. Key processes of working memory involve the
maintenance and manipulation of visual information. Working memory has
been characterized as a facet of fluid intelligence (Blair, 2006). Fluid intelli-
gence consists of areas of cognition that are innate and not learned such as
problem solving and inductive reasoning (Klauer, Willmes, & Phye, 2002).
Fluid intelligence, although innate, is largely thought to be responsive to
training (Bond, Wolf-Wilets, Fiedler, & Burr, 2000). Mental exercise is a form
of cognitive training that seeks to ameliorate age-related declines in cogni-
tive performance. Some studies have found advantages for mental exercise
(Paggi & Hayslip, 1999; Bond et al., 2000) while others have cast doubt on
mental exercise’s effectiveness (Salthouse, 2006). One possible suggestion
to reconcile these findings is that mental exercise may be domain-specific
(Salthouse, 2006). Although working memory does show some plasticity, the
extent of the plasticity is unknown. To examine new possibilities of answer-
ing this question I looked at a task (Sudoku) as a domain-specific (working
memory) form of mental exercise.
Studies examining working memory in older adults have found that
older adults have diminished working memory performance (Emery, Hale,
& Myerson, 2008). Given the pivotal role working memory plays in activities
of daily living (ADL) and other tasks; it is of particular concern if Sudoku
presents a possible way in which to exercise working memory, thus possibly
reducing the age-related declines in working-memory performance. Given
that one of the most glaring age-related differences in cognition comes
from older adults’ poorer performance on working memory tasks (Zeintl
& Kliegel, 2007), the study of how mental exercise may relate to working
memory is of great importance.
Sudoku, a popular Japanese game involving the correct placement of
nine nonrepeating digits, has recently become popular in the United States.
Sudoku has great potential for those wishing to study mental exercise, par-
ticularly mental exercise related to working memory. One criticism of mental
exercise is that it can be monotonous. A factor in the popularity of Sudoku
is that many find it very enjoyable. Many of the forms of mental exercise
that may be regarded as fun may not possess attributes that relate to the
functions of working memory. Sudoku is exciting to the field of mental
exercise because the cognitive demands involved in playing Sudoku require
the maintenance of several numbers in memory at once. Also involved is the
use of logic, planning, and manipulations (e.g., mental rotation, rehearsal,
planning, etc.). These mental processes fall w ithin the domain of working
memory. The added bonus is that Sudoku is enjoyable and popular, which
makes people more interested in using Sudoku as a form of mental exercise.
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Sudoku and Working Memory 243
Studies of age and mental exercise have examined games such as chess
(Roring & Charness, 2007). In this study Sudoku performance was evalu-
ated and compared to a battery of working-memory measures. This study
sought to take the crucial step of assessment for any potential form of men-
tal exercise—to determine if the exercise has a relationship with a specific
domain of cognition (working memory). Because the task demands required
to play Sudoku are similar to working-memory processes, it was predicted
that Sudoku-playing performance and working-memory test performance
will share a significant relationship.
METHOD
Participants
Forty-seven participants were recruited for this experiment. Twenty-eight
younger adults (mean age = 29.6 years, SD = 8.8 years; 5 males, 23 females)
who were undergraduates at SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury volunteered
for course credit. Nineteen older adults (mean age = 72.2 years, SD = 7.3
years; 7 males, 12 females) were recruited from the community through
social groups as well as through a subject pool from previous research not
related to this study. The mean years of education for younger adults was
14.9 while older adults reported a mean of 13.5. A self-report of familiarity
with Sudoku for younger adults indicated that 16 had never played, 5 had
played less than three times in their lives, and 6 played at least once a month.
Thirteen older adults reported never playing Sudoku, three reported playing
less than three times in their lives, and three reported playing at least one
game per week. This finding showed that both age groups were comparable
in ratio of novices-to-experienced Sudoku players. The low rate of people
highly familiar with Sudoku made an analysis of expertise unwarranted.
Procedure
Participants completed informed consents and then were presented with a
series of cognitive tests and Sudoku puzzles. Specific instructions for each
task were given at the time of task administration. Once the subjects com-
pleted the cognitive task they went on to play Sudoku. All participants were
instructed on how to play regardless of their prior experience with the
game. After receiving instructions on how to play, participants completed
an instructional Sudoku during which the experimenter assisted the partic-
ipants when asked. During this time the instructor would also point out
errors. When the participant completed the instructional Sudoku they then
began the regular Sudoku trials. Participants were instructed to never guess
at any point. If they believed that they had to guess in order to complete
the game, the participant was required to stop. Participants completed the
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244 J. W. Grabbe
puzzles in pencil and were allowed to erase errors only if that error was
not caused by another error. That is, if the participant made an error (e.g.,
placed a 4 in a row that already had a 4 in it) and discovered that this error
was made because of a previous error they had made and had not corrected,
they would have to stop.
Participants started with easy and then moved on to medium-difficulty
Sudoku puzzles. Performance on Sudoku puzzles was recorded by the
number of hits and number of errors. Hits were recorded when a num-
ber was correctly placed; an error was when a number was incorrectly
placed. Participants completed the study in one session lasting approxi-
mately 90 minutes in a laboratory at the Plattsburgh campus. Regular breaks
were given to prevent fatigue.
Materials
Materials were from a test battery used by Hedden and Yoon (2006). These
tests represent a broad and exhaustive array of measures of working memory
and cognition.
P
LUS-MINUS TASK
The plus-minus task consisted of three separate trials that involved the pre-
sentation of random two-digit numbers. The participants’ task was to add
three to the target number on the first block of trials. On the second block
of trials participants had to subtract three from the target number. The
third block involved alternating between adding three to the target num-
ber on one trial and subtracting three from the target number on the next
trial. Participants had to keep track of whether they were to add or sub-
tract on each trial. No external cues were given to participants. Participants
responded by pressing one of four keys that spatially corresponded to four
possible answers presented on the screen below the target number.
L
ETTER MEMORY
The letter memory task involved the presentation of a string of letters in
which the last four letters must be recalled. Participants wrote down their
response. The four different lengths of letter strings were 5, 7, 9, and 11.
Each particular length was presented three times for a total of 12 lists. Letters
were presented on a computer screen one at a time for 2,000 milliseconds
per letter. Then the word recall appeared and participants wrote down the
last four letters.
B
ACKWARD DIGIT SPAN
For the backward digit span (BDS) task participants heard the experimenter
speak a series of digits. Digits were spoken at a rate of one per second.
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Sudoku and Working Memory 245
Participants then had to repeat the digits they just heard in the opposite
order. Blocks consisted of two trials, and each trial consisted of two to eight
digits. When the participant failed to successfully repeat the digits in both
trials of the same block the task was terminated. The number of correct trials
was the dependent variable.
S
TROOP TASK
A traditional Stroop task, adapted from Hedden and Yoon (2006), was per-
formed on a computer. Participants had to press one of four corresponding
keys on a keyboard to respond to the color of a stimulus: red, green, blue,
or yellow. In 72 neutral trials, only asterisks were shown. In addition, in 72
word trials a word appeared (BLUE, RED, GREEN, or YELLOW). In 60 of
these word trials the color would be incongruent; the remaining 12 trials
were congruent (e.g., BLUE was colored blue). The dependent variable was
reaction time and accuracy.
D
IGIT SYMBOL SUBSTITUTION
Participants completed the digit symbol substitution task from the Wechsler
Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised (WAIS-R). Participants had 90 seconds to
match symbols under corresponding digits. The dependent variable was the
number of correct substitutions.
L
ETTER COMPARISON
The letter comparison task consisted of presenting on a computer pairs of
letter strings to the participant. The participants’ task was to determine if
the letter strings, which were 3, 6, or 9 letters in length, matched or were
different. Participants pressed one of two keys to respond if the strings
were different or the same. The dependent variable was derived by tak-
ing the number of correct trials and subtracting the number of incorrect
trials.
V
OCABULARY
Participants’ vocabulary was assessed using the WAIS-R vocabulary subscale.
S
EMANTIC FLUENCY
For the semantic fluency task participants had 60 seconds to write down as
many animals as they could. Participants responded by writing down the
names of animals on an answer sheet.
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246 J. W. Grabbe
SUDOKU
Participants had two easy Sudoku puzzles to complete that were timed for a
maximum of 5 minutes each. Medium-difficulty Sudoku puzzles were timed
for a maximum of 5 minutes each. Participants also completed one easy and
one medium untimed Sudoku puzzle.
RESULTS
Data were subjected to a canonical correlation analysis. The significance
level was set at p < 0.05 two-tailed. The correlation matrix is presented in
Table 1. There was no missing data because all 47 participants completed
all measures of the experiment.
Comparison of Sudoku and Working Memory
Digit-symbol performance had a strong relation to Sudoku performance
(see Table 1). Digit symbol was negatively correlated with easy error,
r(47) =−.395, p < .05; easy timed error, r(47) =−.320, p < .05; and untimed
error, r(47) =−.301, p < .05. A strong positive correlation existed for digit
symbol with medium hits, r(47) = .355, p < .05; easy timed hits, r(47) = .344,
p < .05; and untimed hits, r(47) = .317, p < .05.
Looking at the relation between Sudoku and traditional measures,
a negative correlation existed between percentage of errors in untimed
Sudoku puzzles and percentage of correct responses in a traditional
Stroop task: r(47) =−.473, p < .01 (see Table 2). Increased reaction
time for the Stroop task had a significant positive correlation with
mean medium hits for timed Sudoku puzzles, r(47) = .290, p < .05.
A strong association between Sudoku and Stroop-task performance was
found. Significant negative correlations were found between accuracy
and error for easy Sudoku puzzles, r(47) =−.495, p < .05; medium
error, r(47) =−.460, p < .01; easy timed error, r(47) =−.303, p < .05;
and medium timed error, r(47) =−.360, p < .05. This demonstrated
that increased accuracy on the Stroop task was correlated with fewer
errors on Sudoku. Curiously, there was a significant negative correla-
tion between Stroop-task accuracy and medium timed hits, r(47) =−.347,
p < .05. This may indicate the possibility that participants’ sacrificed speed
to retain accuracy on the Stroop task (this would explain why accurate
people had less errors on a timed puzzle but not enough time to mark
many correct hits). Furthermore, higher levels of error in easy Sudoku puz-
zles, r(47) = .330, p < .05, and medium timed Sudoku puzzles, r(47) = .290,
p < .05, were positively correlated with increased Stroop-task reaction time.
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TABLE 1 Sudoku Performance, Age, Vocabulary, Digit Symbol, Semantic Fluency, Backward Digit, and Letter Memory C orrelations
Age
Digit
symbol
Semantic
fluency
Backward
digit
Letter
memory
5 digits
Letter
memory
7 digits
Letter
memory
9 digits
Letter
memory
11 digits
Mean easy hits 0.064 0.283 0.010 0.107 0.301
0.098 0.080 0.173
Mean easy error 0.462
∗∗
0.395
∗∗
0.431
∗∗
0.176 0.063 0.128 0.255 0.033
Mean medium error 0.482
∗∗
0.267 0.403
∗∗
0.153 0.123 0.241 0.259 0.052
Mean medium hits 0.072 0.355
0.198 0.057 0.358
0.218 0.109 0.142
Mean easy timed hits 0.056 0.344
0.125 0.205 0.189 0.329
0.220 0.243
Mean easy timed error 0.281 0.320
0.267 0.082 0.049 0.019 0.086 0.021
Mean untimed error 0.499
∗∗
0.301
0.423
∗∗
0.288 0.157 0.300
0.371
0.071
Mean untimed hits 0.013 0.317
0.106 0.183 0.337
0.111 0.087 0.125
Mean medium timed hits 0.281 0.027 0.212 0.004 0.151 0.043 0.165 0.001
Mean medium timed error 0.344
0.176 0.311
0.124 0.110 0.082 0.079 0.009
p < 0.05.
∗∗
p < 0.01.
247
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248 J. W. Grabbe
TABLE 2 Sudoku Performance and Letter Memory Correlations
Stroop
accuracy Stroop RT
Plus-Minus
task RT
Plus-Minus task
accuracy
Mean easy hits 0.081 0.122 0.038 0.120
Mean easy error .495
∗∗
.330
.518
∗∗
0.232
Mean medium error .460
∗∗
0.244 .505
∗∗
0.236
Mean medium hits 0.084 0.027 0.097 0.099
Mean easy timed hits 0.051 0.015 0.166 0.108
Mean easy timed error .303
0.275 .339
0.269
Mean untimed error .473
∗∗
0.220 .547
∗∗
0.163
Mean untimed hits 0.137 0.044 0.061 0.144
Mean medium timed hits .347
.290
0.195 0.089
Mean medium timed error .360
0.188 .353
0.212
p < 0.05.
∗∗
p < 0.01. RT = Reaction Time.
Significant positive correlations were also identified between reaction
time for the plus-minus task and mean error for Sudoku puzzles: easy error,
r(47) = .518, p < .01; medium error, r(47) = .505, p < .01; easy timed error,
r(47) = .339, p < .05; untimed error, r(47) = .547, p < .01; and medium timed
error, r(47) = .353, p < .05. This suggests that poorer reaction-time perfor-
mance was associated with high error rates. However, the error rates on
the plus-minus task were not related to the error rates for Sudoku puz-
zles. Because four of the five Sudoku measures were timed (e.g., easy
timed error) or untimed (e.g., medium error) combined with time that
was correlated with the plus-minus task reaction time, this might indicate
poorer performance when under time constraints. Speed has been a fac-
tor in age-related performance (Salthouse, 1984). Processing speed appears
to be a factor in this finding. There was a significant negative correlation
between semantic fluency and mean error for both easy, r(47) =−.431,
p < .05, and medium, r(47) =−.403, p < .05. Semantic fluency also had
a negative correlation with untimed error rate, r(47) =−.423, p < .05, and
with medium timed error, r(47) =−.311, p < .05. This demonstrated that
as we see an increase in fluency the error rate decreases. This suggests
that accurate Sudoku performance involves the ability to inhibit contra-
vening information. Semantic fluency measures the inhibition executive
function of working memory (Hedden & Yoon, 2006), therefore, part of
playing Sudoku involves knowing where not to misplace a digit. This is
very interesting in terms of relating working memory performance to work-
ing memory process. A significant positive correlation exists between letter
memory (5 digits) and mean easy hits, r(47) = .301, p < .05; with mean
medium hits, r(47) = .358, p < .05; and with untimed hits, r(47) = .337,
p < .05. Examining letter memory (7 digits) had a significant positive
correlation with easy timed hits, r(47) = .329, p < .05, and a significant neg-
ative correlation with untimed error,
r(47) =−.300, p < .05. Letter memory
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Sudoku and Working Memory 249
(9 digits) had a negative correlation with untimed errors for Sudoku puzzles,
r(47) =−.371, p < .05.
The results of letter comparison and Sudoku were interesting because of
the parallel in task demands between the two. There was also a significant
positive correlation between reaction time on letter comparison (3 digits)
and error for easy Sudoku puzzles (see Table 3), r(47) = .328, p < .05, as
well as for untimed error, r(47) = .374, p < .05. However, the error rates
for Sudoku were not significantly correlated to error rates for letter compar-
ison (3 digits). There was a significant negative correlation between mean
medium overall hits for Sudoku and letter comparison (9 digits) reaction
time, r(47) =−.320, p < .05. Another significant negative correlation was
found for mean easy timed hits for Sudoku and letter comparison (9 digits)
reaction time, r(47) =−.319, p < .05. These results are interesting because a
greater level of accuracy on Sudoku is associated with the ability to scan and
compare nine digits. All Sudoku rows, columns, and three-by-three boxes
contain exactly nine digits. The ability to quickly process nine digits for
error would facilitate better performance on Sudoku puzzles. Individuals
who would not be able to scan nine digits easily would have a more difficult
time making hits.
From the r esults, so far we see that speed (plus-minus task), inhibi-
tion (semantic fluency), and span (letter comparison) correlate to Sudoku
performance. These results demonstrate that there is a relationship between
Sudoku and working memory, which was the goal of this study. If Sudoku
could become a form of mental exercise for the aging, what is the role of
age in Sudoku and working memory? In the following section the effects of
age are reported.
Age-Related Findings
Although age did correspond to significantly higher levels of error on some
Sudoku puzzles, it was not related to the number of hits. There were several
significant positive correlations between age and error rate for Sudoku (see
Table 1). When looking at measures of working memory it was revealed
that older adults performed more poorly on measures of working memory
(see Table 4). A trend also showed poorer performance on the more difficult
letter memory tasks as age increased. Age showed a strong relationship to
increases in reaction time and decreases in accuracy for the Stroop task
and the plus-minus task. Age showed no significant effect on accuracy for
the letter comparison task, despite a significant increase in reaction time
associated with age. Although some of the correlations were not as strong,
they still demonstrated a previous relationship between Sudoku and working
memory. These age effects also provide enough evidence to warrant future
studies examining aging and expertise in Sudoku.
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TABLE 3 Sudoku Performance, Stroop Task, and Plus-Minus Task Correlations
Letter
comparison
3RT
Letter
comparison
3 accuracy
Letter
comparison
6RT
Letter
comparison
6 accuracy
Letter
comparison
9RT
Letter
comparison
9 accuracy
Mean easy hits 0.006 0.188 0.045 0.114 0.152 0.146
Mean easy error .328
0.087 0.164 0.123 0.289 0.017
Mean medium error 0.289 0.114 0.143 0.105 0.199 0.018
Mean medium hits 0.090 0.190 0.072 0.011 .320
0.156
Mean easy timed hits 0.137 0.085 0.131 0.074 .319
0.053
Mean easy timed error 0.142 0.025 0.078 0.102 0.206 0.128
Mean untimed error .374
0.151 0.226 0.109 0.248 0.106
Mean untimed hits 0.013 0.226 0.007 0.098 0.195 0.216
Mean medium timed hits 0.211 0.027 0.133 0.092 0.104 0.003
Mean medium timed error 0.136 0.023 0.041 0.106 0.077 0.158
p < 0.05. RT = Reaction Time.
250
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TABLE 4 Age Comparison Among Measures of Working Memory
Vocabulary
Semantic
fluency
Backwards
digit
Letter
memory
5 digits
Letter
memory
7 digits
Letter
memory
9 digits
Letter
memory
11 digits
Plus-minus
task RT
Plus-minus
task
accuracy
Age .292
.581
∗∗
0.237 0.127 0.249 .488
∗∗
.361
.663
∗∗
.355
Letter
comparison
3RT
Letter
comparison
3 accuracy
Letter
comparison
6RT
Letter
comparison
6 accuracy
Letter
comparison
9RT
Letter
comparison
9 accuracy
Stroop
accuracy Stroop RT
Age .745
∗∗
0.017 0.266 0.214 .709
∗∗
0.099 .568
∗∗
.675
∗∗
p < 0.05.
∗∗
p < 0.01.
251
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252 J. W. Grabbe
DISCUSSION
This study examined whether Sudoku has a relationship with traditional
measures of working memory. Furthermore, the role that age plays in
this possible relationship was studied. The results show that Sudoku has
a significant relationship with various measures of working memory. This
relationship is centered around a consistent finding that increased error on
Sudoku is r elated to poorer performance on measures of working memory.
Age is also associated with poorer working memory and Sudoku perfor-
mance. The current body of research on mental exercise has called attention
to a domain-specific focus of mental exercise (Hertzog, Kramer, Wilson, &
Lindenberger, 2009; Paggi & Hayslip, 1999; Salthouse, 2006; Schooler, 2007).
This study completed the crucial step in bringing a new tool to the focus
of mental exercise by demonstrating that the tool (Sudoku) does have some
form of relationship to working memory.
A relevant issue in the study of mental exercise is that not all forms
of mental exercises are universal preservative of all facets of cognition but,
rather, are domain specific (Salthouse, 2006). The data suggest a domain-
specific relationship for Sudoku. It is not only a fluid-intelligence domain
but also one that has been established to have plasticity (Bond et al., 2000)
and is known to decline with age (Emery et al., 2008; Holtzer, Stern, &
Rakitin, 2004). This brings a popular and fun game to the attention of mental
exercise, which is related to a critical component of cognition: working
memory. There is now the potential as well as the need to examine if Sudoku
can be used as a tool to promote working memory performance in older
adults.
The aim of this study is also one of its limitations. This study did not
establish that Sudoku improves working memory performance. The goal
was to examine if a relationship exists between Sudoku and working mem-
ory. The results show that a relationship does exist, but what the specific
relationship looks like requires further research. One aspect of this study
is that Sudoku errors were more often related to poorer performance on
measures of working memory than Sudoku hits. This may give some insight
for future studies in that perhaps a monitoring aspect of executive func-
tion has a role in this relationship. Another limitation of this study was
that the effect of expertise was not studied. Again, the precursory nature
of this study prohibited a closer examination of expertise. Furthermore,
although there were some people who had significant experience playing
Sudoku, there were not enough expert subjects to allow the study of exper-
tise. A focus for future research should be the role of expertise in Sudoku.
The study of expertise has often examined the limits of transfer and speci-
ficity (Karbach & Kray, 2009). Future studies of expertise and Sudoku could
elucidate on the possibility of transfer of Sudoku expertise and working
memory.
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Sudoku and Working Memory 253
The results of this study now inject a relationship between working
memory and a popular puzzle game into the mental exercise literature. It is
essential to establish a relationship between mental exercise and a specific
cognitive domain (Karbach & Kray, 2009; Schooler, 2007), which is what has
been done in this study. The next logical step for future studies is to exam-
ine if extensive training in Sudoku can lead to improved working memory
performance.
The findings are novel for the study of mental exercise in that various
measures of working memory (digit symbol, plus-minus task, Stroop task,
letter memory, and letter comparison) are related to a widely popular puzzle.
Sudoku is a new element in the study of mental exercise, which can help
to expand the range of interest researchers can devote to the interaction
between aging and mental exercise. Given the need to promote measures to
preserve cognitive performance in older adults, this study shows an encour-
aging possibility for a popular puzzle to become a new focus in the study
of mental exercise.
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... Their results indicated that based on gameplay, the group with MCI could be discerned from the healthy control group. Regarding Sudoku, another popular game amongst older adults, Grabbe [55] showed that performance in the game was significantly related to measures of working memory. Using a set of smartphone-based puzzle games, which also contained Sudoku, Thompson et al. [56] explored smartphone-based games as a means of portable cognitive assessment and monitoring. ...
... Across the previously mentioned studies, different lines of reasoning are given to justify the game of choice as suitable for neuropsychological evaluation. Grabbe [55] analyzed components of Sudoku and linked them to working memory based on his own analysis. Jimison et al. [10] chose FreeCell because it was the most popular game in their focus group. ...
Preprint
BACKGROUND Mild Cognitive Impairment, the intermediate cognitive status between healthy cognitive decline and pathological decline, is an important clinical construct for signaling possible prodromes of dementia. Unfortunately, there is an underdetection of this condition. To provide monitoring and screening, commercial off-the-shelf video games may be of interest. They maintain player engagement over a longer period of time and support longitudinal measurements of cognitive performance. OBJECTIVE This paper aims to explore how player actions of Klondike Solitaire relate to cognitive functions and to which extent they are indicative of Mild Cognitive Impairment. METHODS Eleven experts in the domain of cognitive impairments were asked to correlate 21 player actions to eleven cognitive functions. Expert agreement was verified through intraclass correlation, based on a two-way fully crossed design with type consistency. RESULTS All intraclass correlations for player actions and cognitive function scored above 0.75, indicating good to excellent reliability. Further scrutinizing of the results revealed that all player actions had at least one cognitive function which was on average moderately to strongly correlated to a cognitive function. Similarly, each cognitive function had at least one player action which was on average moderately to strongly correlated. Similarities and patterns were found amongst player actions, providing insight into the mechanics of Klondike Solitaire gameplay. CONCLUSIONS Together, these results suggest that Klondike Solitaire has potential as a complementary tool for screening and monitoring cognition, warranting further research which analyses Klondike Solitaire gameplay data of older adults with mild cognitive impairment.
... Many studies of mental exercise look at a diverse array of mental exercises and a broad battery of cognitive assessment rather than study if one specific domain of cognition is affected by mental exercise (Paggi & Hayslip, 1999). Grabbe (2011) utilized a battery of tests and demonstrated that Sudoku performance shares a significant amount of variance with working memory performance. This was, to the author's knowledge, the first attempt to identify Sudoku as a function of a specific domain of cognitive function. ...
... Older adults have been consistently observed to have poorer working memory performance (Holtzer, Stern, & Rakitin, 2004;Karbach & Kray, 2009;Zeintl & Kliegel, 2007).This study examined the effects of playing Sudoku on working memory for a span of four months. Grabbe (2011) found that Sudoku performance was related to better digit symbol substitution task performance as well as letter memory performance among various other measures. ...
Article
In the study of activities and their influence in healthy aging, the role of mental exercise has long looked at broad battery approaches to study cognitive performance. This study continued the examination of domain-specific mental exercise. Younger and older adults’ working memory performance was assessed at the beginning and end of a four-month period. During that period both groups regularly played Sudoku puzzles provided by the experimenter. There were improvements in working memory, particularly in digit symbol and letter memory performance. The implications of this study for future, more elaborate longitudinal studies are discussed.
... Sudoku contains skills such as strengthening and exercising memory, attention, planning, reasoning (Altun, Hazar & Hazar, 2016;Grabbe, 2011). According to Johnson-Laird (2010), a cognitive scientist known for his studies of reasoning, sudoku is based on pure deduction and contains reasoning processes. ...
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Full-text available
According to Johnson-Laird (2010), sudoku, a mind game, is based on a pure deduction and reasoning processes. This study analyzed sudoku solving skills of preschool children and to ascertain whether there was a difference between children who were educated according to the Ministry of Education preschool education program and the Montessori approach. Sudoku skills of children were analyzed by gender, age, duration of preschool attendance, mother’s and father’s education level and previous experience of playing sudoku using a 12-question Sudoku Skills Measurement Tool developed for this research study.The study sample of the study consisted of 118 children (57 girls, 61 boys) aged between 54-77 months. The findings showed that there was no significant difference in sudoku skills by gender. However, sudoku skills varied with age (54-65 months and 66-77 months) in favor of older groups. Children's sudoku skills were more developed with an increase in education level of either parent. Children who had been in preschool for longer had higher sudoku scores. A previous experience of playing sudoku did not impact sudoku scores. Sudoku skills of children who were educated according to the Montessori program were more developed compared to those of children educated according to Ministry of National Education program.
... In part A, participants were asked to complete as many Sudoku number puzzles as possible while exposed to a broadband noise signal, some with assorted tonal components, for 10 minutes. Sudoku puzzles were selected as the measure of task performance, as they are compact to administer, easy to explain to test participants and have been used as a measure of task performance in other studies with results showing significant relationship with working memory 34,35 . All participants practiced solving Sudoku puzzles during the orientation session before participating in the main test and the difficulty of all Sudoku puzzles in the main test was held constant. ...
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Audible tones in noise generated by building mechanical equipment can be a leading cause of complaints from occupants. A number of metrics have been developed to quantify prominence of a tone, but previous work has shown that the impact of a certain tonality appears to vary with the level of the broadband noise signal. More work on how tonal signals of varying tonality, tone frequency and broadband noise levels relate to annoyance and task performance is needed. This paper investigates such relationships between current noise metrics, annoyance and task performance under assorted tonal noise conditions through subjective testing. Participants rated their perceived annoyance after being exposed to noise signals with differing levels of tones while solving Sudoku puzzles. In addition to assessing annoyance, the test also surveyed the perceived workload caused by the noise by using a modified noise-induced task load index questionnaire. Five levels of tonal prominence for each of two tonal frequencies were added above two different ambient background noise levels to create 20 noise signals of interest. The task performance results based on the Sudoku puzzle answers show trends of decreasing accuracy with increasing tone strengths, but the differences are not statistically significant. Other findings are that loudness metrics are most highly correlated with annoyance responses, while tonality metrics demonstrate relatively less but also significant correlation with annoyance. Generally, participants felt more annoyed with higher background noise levels, lower tone frequency and more prominent tone strength. Based on correlation analysis, a multiple regression model using two of the most strongly correlated noise metrics, ANSI loudness level and tonal audibility, has been developed for predicting annoyance responses from tonal noise conditions.
... In part A, participants were asked to complete as many Sudoku number puzzles as possible while exposed to a broadband noise signal, some with assorted tonal components, for 10 minutes. Sudoku puzzles were selected as the measure of task performance, as they are compact to administer, easy to explain to test participants and have been used as a measure of task performance in other studies with results showing significant relationship with working memory 34,35 . All participants practiced solving Sudoku puzzles during the orientation session before participating in the main test and the difficulty of all Sudoku puzzles in the main test was held constant. ...
Article
Full-text available
Audible tones in noise generated by building mechanical equipment can be a leading cause of complaints from occupants. A number of metrics have been developed to quantify prominence of a tone, but previous work has shown that the impact of a certain tonality appears to vary with the level of the broadband noise signal. More work on how tonal signals of varying tonality, tone frequency and broadband noise levels relate to annoyance and task performance is needed. This paper investigates such relationships between current noise metrics, annoyance and task performance under assorted tonal noise conditions through subjective testing. Participants rated their perceived annoyance after being exposed to noise signals with differing levels of tones while solving Sudoku puzzles. In addition to assessing annoyance, the test also surveyed the perceived workload caused by the noise by using a modified noise-induced task load index questionnaire. Five levels of tonal prominence for each of two tonal frequencies were added above two different ambient background noise levels to create 20 noise signals of interest. The task performance results based on the Sudoku puzzle answers show trends of decreasing accuracy with increasing tone strengths, but the differences are not statistically significant. Other findings are that loudness metrics are most highly correlated with annoyance responses, while tonality metrics demonstrate relatively less but also significant correlation with annoyance. Generally, participants feltmore annoyedwith higher background noise levels, lower tone frequency and more prominent tone strength. Based on correlation analysis, amultiple regressionmodel using two of themost strongly correlated noise metrics, ANSI loudness level and tonal audibility, has been developed for predicting annoyance responses from tonal noise conditions
Article
Background Mild cognitive impairment (MCI), the intermediate cognitive status between normal cognitive decline and pathological decline, is an important clinical construct for signaling possible prodromes of dementia. However, this condition is underdiagnosed. To assist monitoring and screening, digital biomarkers derived from commercial off-the-shelf video games may be of interest. These games maintain player engagement over a longer period of time and support longitudinal measurements of cognitive performance. Objective This paper aims to explore how the player actions of Klondike Solitaire relate to cognitive functions and to what extent the digital biomarkers derived from these player actions are indicative of MCI. Methods First, 11 experts in the domain of cognitive impairments were asked to correlate 21 player actions to 11 cognitive functions. Expert agreement was verified through intraclass correlation, based on a 2-way, fully crossed design with type consistency. On the basis of these player actions, 23 potential digital biomarkers of performance for Klondike Solitaire were defined. Next, 23 healthy participants and 23 participants living with MCI were asked to play 3 rounds of Klondike Solitaire, which took 17 minutes on average to complete. A generalized linear mixed model analysis was conducted to explore the differences in digital biomarkers between the healthy participants and those living with MCI, while controlling for age, tablet experience, and Klondike Solitaire experience. Results All intraclass correlations for player actions and cognitive functions scored higher than 0.75, indicating good to excellent reliability. Furthermore, all player actions had, according to the experts, at least one cognitive function that was on average moderately to strongly correlated to a cognitive function. Of the 23 potential digital biomarkers, 12 (52%) were revealed by the generalized linear mixed model analysis to have sizeable effects and significance levels. The analysis indicates sensitivity of the derived digital biomarkers to MCI. Conclusions Commercial off-the-shelf games such as digital card games show potential as a complementary tool for screening and monitoring cognition. Trial Registration ClinicalTrials.gov NCT02971124; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02971124
Chapter
Sudoku is a popular recreational game which is claimed to have positive health effects. It can be played using paper or electronically using computers. Only very few studies have explored Sudoku interaction methods. We therefore designed a controlled within-groups experiment involving N = 18 participants to empirically compare three Sudoku interaction methods implemented in a popular Sudoku smartphone app. Our results show that the participants entered digits faster when they selected the location first, followed by selecting the input digit, compared to selecting the digit first followed by selecting the cell location. Participants also preferred selecting cell first over selecting input digit first. No effects of error rates were found.
Article
This teaching brief describes an engaging, in‐class exercise that introduces genetic algorithms as well as advanced Excel functions and capabilities by modeling the familiar Sudoku puzzle. Student groups are first asked to manually solve a given puzzle and then translate that solution methodology to a spreadsheet model. This exercise can be used to build classroom community and as a launching point for the content area of genetic algorithms and the use of Evolutionary Solver.
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In this article, I call into serious question Salthouse's (2006) conclusions evaluating and disparaging the validity of the "use it or lose it" hypothesis regarding mental exercise and mental aging. I do so, in some part, by using data not discussed by Salthouse. The core of my argument relies heavily on a critical assessment of the conclusions that Salthouse derived from both his theoretical reasoning and his review of the literature. The more judicious conclusion I reach is that, although the whole story regarding cognitive function and aging is not known, at some level and to some degree, "using" it often delays the eventuality of "losing" it. © 2007 Association for Psychological Science.
Article
Full-text available
We investigated the training effects and transfer effects associated with 2 approaches to cognitive activities (so-called brain training) that might mitigate age-related cognitive decline. A sample of 78 adults between the ages of 50 and 71 completed 20 one-hr training sessions with the Nintendo Wii Big Brain Academy software over the course of 1 month and, in a second month, completed 20 one-hr reading sessions with articles on 4 different current topics (order of assignment was counterbalanced for the participants). An extensive battery of cognitive and perceptual speed ability measures was administered before and after each month of cognitive training activities, along with a battery of domain-knowledge tests. Results indicated substantial improvements on the Wii tasks, somewhat less improvement on the domain knowledge tests, and practice-related improvements on 6 of the 10 ability tests. However, there was no significant transfer of training from either the Wii practice or the reading tasks to measures of cognitive and perceptual speed abilities. Implications for these findings are discussed in terms of adult intellectual development and maintenance.
Article
Full-text available
It has been hypothesized that older adults are especially susceptible to proactive interference (PI) and that this may contribute to age differences in working memory performance. In young adults, individual differences in PI affect both working memory and reasoning ability, but the relations between PI, working memory, and reasoning in older adults have not been examined. In the current study, young, old, and very old adults performed a modified operation span task that induced several cycles of PI buildup and release as well as two tests of abstract reasoning ability. Age differences in working memory scores increased as PI built up, consistent with the hypothesis that older adults are more susceptible to PI, but both young and older adults showed complete release from PI. Young adults' reasoning ability was best predicted by working memory performance under high PI conditions, replicating M. Bunting (2006). In contrast, older adults' reasoning ability was best predicted by their working memory performance under low PI conditions, thereby raising questions regarding the general role of susceptibility to PI in differences in higher cognitive function among older adults.
Article
Full-text available
What are the factors responsible for skilled typing performance, and do they change with the age of the typist? These questions were addressed in two studies by examining time and accuracy of keystrokes in a variety of typinglike activities among typists ranging in speed from 17 to 104 net words per minute and ranging in age from 19 to 72 years old. Typing skill was related to the temporal consistency of making the same keystroke, the efficiency of overlapping successive keystrokes, the speed of alternate-hand tapping, and the number of characters of to-be-typed text required to maintain a normal rate of typing. Older typists were slower in tapping rate and in choice reaction time but were not slower in speed of typing, apparently because they were more sensitive to characters farther in advance of the currently typed character than young typists.
Article
Mental aerobics is a program designed to enhance the self-esteem and cognitive functioning of older adults in the context of weekly group sessions where the emphasis is on having fun, the cooperative sharing of ideas, and the development of solutions to challenging problems. Loosely based on the creative thinking concepts of the Odyssey of the Mind program, the counselor/facilitator brings to the group puzzles, logical and matrices problems, and both math and word problems to be solved. Older persons who may no longer believe they can produce creative answers and solve such problems are encouraged to believe in themselves by their own successful performance. The program is quite adaptable, and its format can be changed to fit a variety of settings to include integenerational ones.
Article
It is widely believed that keeping mentally active will prevent age-related mental decline. The primary prediction of this mental-exercise hypothesis is that the rate of age-related decline in measures of cognitive functioning will be less pronounced for people who are more mentally active, or, equivalently, that the cognitive differences among people who vary in level of mental activity will be greater with increased age. Although many training studies, and comparisons involving experts, people in specific occupations, and people whose mental activity levels are determined by their self-reports, have found a positive relation between level of activity and level of cognitive functioning, very few studies have found an interactive effect of age and mental activity on measures of cognitive functioning. Despite the current lack of empirical evidence for the idea that the rate of mental aging is moderated by amount of mental activity, there may be personal benefits to assuming that the mental-exercise hypothesis is true. © 2006 Association for Psychological Science.
Article
Research indicates that individuals above the age of 65 can improve their cognitive abilities and memories. Use of computers with elders has shown promise in maintaining cognitive function. The purpose of this study was to compare the effects of a computer intervention on selected cognitive abilities of 14 elders in a long-term care setting who used a computer program versus 15 who did not. Controlling for initial level of cognitive function, multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) showed significant improvement with the computer users compared to the nonusers on five cognitive outcomes. Future studies are needed to examine larger samples and explore gender differences.
In this monograph, we ask whether various kinds of intellectual, physical, and social activities produce cognitive enrichment effects—that is, whether they improve cognitive performance at different points of the adult life span, with a particular emphasis on old age. We begin with a theoretical framework that emphasizes the potential of behavior to influence levels of cognitive functioning. According to this framework, the undeniable presence of age-related decline in cognition does not invalidate the view that behavior can enhance cognitive functioning. Instead, the course of normal aging shapes a zone of possible functioning, which reflects person-specific endowments and age-related constraints. Individuals influence whether they function in the higher or lower ranges of this zone by engaging in or refraining from beneficial intellectual, physical, and social activities. From this point of view, the potential for positive change, or plasticity, is maintained in adult cognition. It is an argument that is supported by newer research in neuroscience showing neural plasticity in various aspects of central nervous system functioning, neurochemistry, and architecture. This view of human potential contrasts with static conceptions of cognition in old age, according to which decline in abilities is fixed and individuals cannot slow its course. Furthermore, any understanding of cognition as it occurs in everyday life must make a distinction between basic cognitive mechanisms and skills (such as working-memory capacity) and the functional use of cognition to achieve goals in specific situations. In practice, knowledge and expertise are critical for effective functioning, and the available evidence suggests that older adults effectively employ specific knowledge and expertise and can gain new knowledge when it is required. We conclude that, on balance, the available evidence favors the hypothesis that maintaining an intellectually engaged and physically active lifestyle promotes successful cognitive aging. First, cognitive-training studies have demonstrated that older adults can improve cognitive functioning when provided with intensive training in strategies that promote thinking and remembering. The early training literature suggested little transfer of function from specifically trained skills to new cognitive tasks; learning was highly specific to the cognitive processes targeted by training. Recently, however, a new generation of studies suggests that providing structured experience in situations demanding executive coordination of skills—such as complex video games, task-switching paradigms, and divided attention tasks—train strategic control over cognition that does show transfer to different task environments. These studies suggest that there is considerable reserve potential in older adults' cognition that can be enhanced through training. Second, a considerable number of studies indicate that maintaining a lifestyle that is intellectually stimulating predicts better maintenance of cognitive skills and is associated with a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's disease in late life. Our review focuses on longitudinal evidence of a connection between an active lifestyle and enhanced cognition, because such evidence admits fewer rival explanations of observed effects (or lack of effects) than does cross-sectional evidence. The longitudinal evidence consistently shows that engaging in intellectually stimulating activities is associated with better cognitive functioning at later points in time. Other studies show that meaningful social engagement is also predictive of better maintenance of cognitive functioning in old age. These longitudinal findings are also open to important rival explanations, but overall, the available evidence suggests that activities can postpone decline, attenuate decline, or provide prosthetic benefit in the face of normative cognitive decline, while at the same time indicating that late-life cognitive changes can result in curtailment of activities. Given the complexity of the dynamic reciprocal relationships between stimulating activities and cognitive function in old age, additional research will be needed to address the extent to which observed effects validate a causal influence of an intellectually engaged lifestyle on cognition. Nevertheless, the hypothesis that an active lifestyle that requires cognitive effort has long-term benefits for older adults' cognition is at least consistent with the available data. Furthermore, new intervention research that involves multimodal interventions focusing on goal-directed action requiring cognition (such as reading to children) and social interaction will help to address whether an active lifestyle enhances cognitive function. Third, there is a parallel literature suggesting that physical activity, and aerobic exercise in particular, enhances older adults' cognitive function. Unlike the literature on an active lifestyle, there is already an impressive array of work with humans and animal populations showing that exercise interventions have substantial benefits for cognitive function, particularly for aspects of fluid intelligence and executive function. Recent neuroscience research on this topic indicates that exercise has substantial effects on brain morphology and function, representing a plausible brain substrate for the observed effects of aerobic exercise and other activities on cognition. Our review identifies a number of areas where additional research is needed to address critical questions. For example, there is considerable epidemiological evidence that stress and chronic psychological distress are negatively associated with changes in cognition. In contrast, less is known about how positive attributes, such as self-efficacy, a sense of control, and a sense of meaning in life, might contribute to preservation of cognitive function in old age. It is well known that certain personality characteristics such as conscientiousness predict adherence to an exercise regimen, but we do not know whether these attributes are also relevant to predicting maintenance of cognitive function or effective compensation for cognitive decline when it occurs. Likewise, more information is needed on the factors that encourage maintenance of an active lifestyle in old age in the face of elevated risk for physiological decline, mechanical wear and tear on the body, and incidence of diseases with disabling consequences, and whether efforts to maintain an active lifestyle are associated with successful aging, both in terms of cognitive function and psychological and emotional well-being. We also discuss briefly some interesting issues for society and public policy regarding cognitive-enrichment effects. For example, should efforts to enhance cognitive function be included as part of a general prevention model for enhancing health and vitality in old age? We also comment on the recent trend of business marketing interventions claimed to build brain power and prevent age-related cognitive decline, and the desirability of direct research evidence to back claims of effectiveness for specific products.
Article
Based on a prescriptive theory of inductive reasoning, a training program to foster inductive reasoning has been developed. Children from 12 first-grade classes, mean age about 7 years, N = 279, participated in a training experiment. The children of 6 classes were trained to apply a strategy to reason inductively while the children of the remaining classes continued their regular classroom activities. It was expected that trained children would outperform the untrained children with respect to Raven's Coloured Progressive Matrices but not with respect to a vocabulary test, thus indicating convergent and discriminant or domain-specific training effects. Results confirmed this expectation. Moreover, it was expected that training would improve performance on the inductive subtests of Cattell's Culture Fair Test 1, but not influence subtests that did not involve inductive reasoning. Considerable transfer to both kinds of subtests was found on the immediate transfer task. However, with a delayed posttest 6 months later, the expected differential training effect could be observed. Finally, a LISREL model analysis confirmed the hypothesis that training children to reason inductively improved fluid but not crystallized intelligence.
Article
Although executive functions can be improved by training, little is known about the extent to which these training-related benefits can be transferred to other tasks, or whether this transfer can be modulated by the type of training. This study investigated lifespan changes in near transfer of task-switching training to structurally similar tasks and its modulation by verbal self-instructions and variable training, as well as far transfer to structurally dissimilar 'executive' tasks and fluid intelligence. Three age groups (8-10; 18-26; 62-76 years of age) were examined in a pretest-training-posttest design. We found near transfer of task-switching training in all age groups, especially in children and older adults. Near transfer was enhanced in adults and impaired in children when training tasks were variable. We also found substantial far transfer to other executive tasks and fluid intelligence in all age groups, pointing to the transfer of relatively general executive control abilities after training.