Engaging in challenging mental tasks may do more than strengthen your brain--it may also make you more open, flexible, and creative, according to a recent study.
In this study, the 183 participants, ranging in age from 60 to 90, first completed tests that assessed their cognitive performance and personality traits. Then, they were randomly assigned to a cognitive intervention group or a control group with no cognitive intervention. Participants in the intervention group received training in problem solving and pattern recognition and were sent home with crossword and Sudoku puzzles to work on at their own pace. They returned on a weekly basis to engage in increasingly challenging inductive-reasoning tasks that were designed to keep pace with their skill development, and to receive the following week's puzzle material.
After 16 weeks of training in inductive reasoning and engaging in puzzle solving, the older adults were assessed with a second round of cognitive and personality testing. Results showed that while the control group did not change significantly, the older adults in the intervention group demonstrated an increase in the personality trait of openness to new experience, a measure of characteristics such as embracing new ideas, taking on challenging intellectual or cultural pursuits, being flexible and being creative. Openness to new experience has been linked to better health and decreased mortality.
"This study should be welcome news for older individuals," says Maurizio Fava, MD, Vice Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at MGH. "It is one of the first to demonstrate that a key personality trait can change in positive ways even at an older age, and that intellectual activity can help stimulate this change."
The authors of the study, which was published Jan. 16, 2012 in the journal Psychology and Aging, theorized that the increasing openness developed by the intervention group led to their "growing confidence in their reasoning abilities [that] possibly enabled greater enjoyment of intellectually challenging and creative endeavors."