Wordle and Your Brain

Do You Get Smarter the More You Play?


Sylvia Lee

The Science Behind the New Word Puzzle

Wordle, a web-based word puzzle, has become a popular daily distraction in recent weeks. Suddenly, millions of people’s attention has been drawn to their five-letter frequency and letter position vocabulary. Users are given six chances to guess a five-letter word while strategizing about the best opening words and faster solutions.

But does excelling at Wordle imply that you’re smarter than the average person, or even a fellow puzzler?

“No,” said Aaron Seitz, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and the director of the university’s Brain Game Center. “You’re just one person who excels at Wordle versus another who doesn’t.”

No, you’re just one person who excels at Wordle versus another who doesn’t.

— Aaron Seitz, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, and the director of the university’s Brain Game Center

It’s similar to people who are really good at Scrabble, one’s that are so good that they compete in international tournaments, says Penny Pexman, a psychology professor at the University of Calgary who has studied the brains of Scrabble players.

Scrabble players recognize words faster, especially in vertical orientation but they didn’t find that those advantages transferred to non-Scrabble-related tasks. As soon as they were shown a visual pattern or symbol that wasn’t a letter, they looked like non-experts.

The same goes for chess, when the pieces are not in their legal positions or other information is displayed on a chessboard, the player’s ability to visually scan and understand the board is below average.

The benefits of brain training are mostly quite specific and that’s why getting very good at Wordle was unlikely to make your brain good at anything else.

According to psychologist Jonathan King, senior scientific advisor to the director of the National Institute on Aging’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research, which funds brain-training research, even if you’re playing Wordle in the hopes of slowing down the aging process, research so far hasn’t shown any significant widespread protection from most brain-training games.

Wordle’s Advantages and Disadvantages

Many people who enjoy Wordle, Scrabble, crossword puzzles, or other types of puzzles have a high “need for cognition,” according to Pexman.

She had explained that some people just like puzzles and in order to know that the need for cognition differs from the need for intelligence and that it has been proven that it’s necessarily something you do because you’re smart but rather, it’s something you enjoy doing.

However, playing Wordle is different from doing crossword puzzles because you don’t need to know the meanings of words or even have a large vocabulary. They’re all five-letter words, however, you must be able to do a lot with them.

King says that usually something like this is a deductive-reasoning task, which would be associated with activity in the frontal and prefrontal lobes of the brain. While Pexman says that the visual working memory area of the brain, which is located in the prefrontal cortex region above the forehead, is the on that is definitely involved.

For example, Pexman explained that it was like a mental sketch pad where you hold the visual information in your mind and manipulate it, which is a skill that some people have a lot of capacity for and others don’t. Your ability to have attentional focus is also very much involved, in addition to manipulating information in memory over a short period of time.

While Wordle may exercise the specific brain “muscles” of visual memory and attention, many believe that using strategies such as using words with lots of vowels or a database of five-letter words may cause that muscle to deteriorate.

When you start to use strategies to solve the puzzle, you’ve taken the load off your attention and memory processes, and limit Wordle’s potential benefits. The general advice is to choose a brain activity that is challenging, and then, when you feel like you’re really good at it, switch to another activity that provides a new challenge. So, by rotating through these different types of challenges, you get a variety that will exercise your brain in different ways.

Not a Fan of Wordle?

If you happen to not be a fan of word or puzzle games, that’s fine, according to psychologists. Many other activities that have been studied have been found to provide a similar boost to the brain.

One thing that experts recommend to people to ensure healthy brain aging would be exercise, as all of the beneficial effects of normal blood flow on cognition are well established.

Dancing is another choice because it not only engages cognitive spatial skills but also adds social interaction, which research has shown is important for staying cognitively alert.

Seitz added that research is beginning to show that other activities, such as learning to play a musical instrument, learning a second language, or learning to paint, cook, and take photographs, work as well.

“When people ask me for advice on how to have a healthier brain, I tell them that given what we know right now, learn something new every day,” Seitz said.

“I always say that if you lift weights with one finger every day, you’ll have a really strong finger.” That also applies to the brain, so challenge it in different ways.”


LaMotte, Sandee. “Wordle and Your Brain: Does Playing Make You Smarter?” CNN, Cable News Network, 8 Mar. 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/08/health/wordle-brain-games-wellness/index.html.

Pexman, Penny. “Is Wordle Good for Your Brain? the Science of Puzzles, Explained.” Inverse, Inverse, 6 Feb. 2022, https://www.inverse.com/gaming/is-wordle-good-for-your-brain.