A new study published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Business School looked at how having a game in common helped people improve. They ran a series of experiments that assessed two types of challenges: those related to their day to day activities (work, school, etc.) and those related to their health (meditation, exercising, dieting). The results showed that when people played a game, such as Scrabble or Tetris, their decision-making abilities improved and they made better choices in other areas of their lives. With those players, the researchers found, “matching a word to a nearby letter increased accuracy by 13 percentage points (compared to 1% for other games) and doubled the game time. Additionally, pairing words together increased the number of letters played by 5%.” Women outperformed men in the study, helping to dispel the stereotype that men have a natural drive to win. The study asked 110 undergraduates to play one of five versions of a game or three others: doing this for less than two hours a week for 40 weeks, and for at least two hours a week for 60 weeks. Those who participated also played out a semester’s worth of games. Those who played at least one game were noted as the most likely to make it past the semester. Related: 16 secrets for a more productive life

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While people played these games, they also conducted surveys about their experience, which they reviewed later to assess whether there was a pattern that emerged. So, the study broke participants into four groups: those who played Scrabble and Tetris, those who played board games with real letters (made of pure rubber with beakers and glass balls), and those who played video games that made them play the game of their choice. Their enthusiasm for these games varied, but the results, the researchers found, were similar. “For one group, people reported a sense of accomplishment after playing a low-stakes game compared to playing a moderate-stakes game,” they wrote. “In other words, it made sense to them that they might feel accomplished.”

Overall, the subjects who played the electronic games reported feeling more euphoric after each game, while those who played with a physical board indicated being less euphoric. That led the researchers to come to the important conclusion: When your goal is to get to the level you want to be at, and you’re faced with a difficult game, choose the one that puts you in a state of euphoria — one that gets your heart pumping and your blood pumping. It has the added bonus of making you just a little bit more productive.