U of C researchers investigate what makes accomplished scrabble players so ‘S-M-A-R-T’

Merriam-Webster added new words to the Scrabble dictionary.
Merriam-Webster added new words to the Scrabble dictionary. Global News

CALGARY – ‘Smart’ is a five-letter word which may not be worth much on a scrabble board but it certainly describes the game’s best players.

Researchers at the University of Calgary are looking at exactly what makes these players so good.

So far, researchers have discovered they’re more adept at distinguishing legitimate words from nonsense words – 20 per cent faster than an ordinary undergraduate student.

Unlike most people, they don’t necessarily need to know the meaning of words to decide whether or not they are real.

“They were able to sort of de-emphasize the contribution of meanings. They didn’t need to rely on it as much. They could just make the decision based on sight alone,” says Ian Hargreaves, PhD candidate in Psychology and the lead researcher on the study.

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Researchers also discovered scrabble players are better able to read words displayed vertically, top-to-down, which of course is how many words appear on the board.

Players’ skills are developed from hours of playing the game and getting a leg up by perusing scrabble dictionaries.

“To us, we’re interested in how people process language and so to us these people are real experts. The time and effort they put into scrabble has really changed their brains,” says Dr. Penny Pexman, a professor of psychology at the university.

The average person has a vocabulary of approximately 40,000 words. An accomplished scrabble player knows over 150,000.

The University of Calgary scrabble study has been published in Memory and Cognition, a prestigious journal of psychology.

You can read and download the study below:


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