Seven Psychological Benefits of Playing Board Games

Playing doesn't just mean having fun, even though this does tend to be its main purpose. In fact, board games provide numerous psychological benefits, from improving cognitive flexibility and concentration, to promoting socialization and preventing cognitive decline.
Seven Psychological Benefits of Playing Board Games

Last update: 18 November, 2022

It’s not just children who play, we all do. And when we play, we activate different areas of our brains. That’s because different cognitive abilities are generated, such as reasoning, logic, or memory.

In fact, there are several psychological benefits of playing, not only on a cognitive level but also on a psychological and social level. Moreover, when we play, we also socialize.

“Play is the stick that stirs the drink. It is the basis of all art, games, books, sports, movies, fashion, fun, and wonder – in short, the basis of what we think of as civilization. Play is the vital essence of life. It is what makes life lively.” 

-Stuart Brown-

The benefits of playing board games

The central element of many board games is the board itself. The vast majority are based on specific rules. These sometimes lead to the generation of variants of the same game that can, for example, make chance more influential or the games shorter.

Board games may require mental planning, strategy, manual dexterity, or other skills. They’re group games, in which teams are formed. But how does playing board games help us psychologically? Here are some of their most interesting benefits.

Seniors playing board games
Some board games help maintain certain cognitive functions in older people.

1. They improve verbal fluency and prevent cognitive decline

According to research conducted by the University of Lleida (Spain) and published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry in 2020, modern board and card games improve verbal fluency. In addition, they could be an effective intervention to maintain some cognitive functions in the elderly, also preventing their deterioration.

The researchers worked with others from the Valdecilla Biomedical Research Center (Cantabria) and the Mental Health Network Biomedical Research Center (CIBERSAM). They also collaborated with professionals from the Comtes Urgell residence in Balaguer and the Afim21 Association in Almería.

The research was conducted through two trials with 49 healthy 65-year-old participants. They all attended adult care institutions. They undertook fortnightly 90-minute sessions for five weeks with psychologists specializing in the elderly (psychogerontologists).

2. They improve short-term memory, inhibition, and flexibility

According to other research, conducted by the Neuropsychology, Genes, and Environment Department of the  University of Lleida, modern board games are beneficial when it comes to enhancing other cognitive abilities. For instance, short-term memory, inhibition (the ability to inhibit our behavior when necessary), and mental flexibility (necessary to change tasks, for example).

These benefits were experienced by minors with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), minors at risk of social exclusion, and the elderly.

3. They promote socialization

Another psychological benefit is that board games favor socialization. When playing with other people, we’re in contact with them, we exchange opinions and strategies, and, ultimately, we socialize.

Our brains like this, because it forces them to get to ‘work’ via empathy and open-mindedness. For example, by having to listen to others and understand them. Not to mention the benefits of socializing and meeting new people.

4. They reduce stress

Playing board games can also help reduce day-to-day stress, as they require us to focus on the present moment, on the game itself, and stay focused on it.

In addition, they’re really good distractors, since they protect us from day-to-day worries. In fact, all pleasant activities are beneficial for reducing our levels of activation and stress.

5. They promote concentration

When playing board games, we must devote all our attention to the games themselves, understand the rules and how they work, wait for our turns, and think of tactics or strategies (individually or as a team) to win, etc. This favors the abilities of sustained attention and concentration.

6. They favor learning and following rules

These types of games (especially the most modern ones) are built around predefined sets of rules. They support the operation of the game and we require understanding and learning of them in order to play.

Additionally, many modern board games share mechanics and similarities that favor the ability to extract and transfer features and keys from one game to another.

three friends playing
Board games help us exercise reasoning and reflection.

7. They help us to debate and order our ideas

Cooperative board games allow players to debate and cooperate with each other to win. Therefore, these types of games promote the ability to debate and order our ideas, in search of common goals.

Playing board games is positive

There are many different types of board games. In some, participants have to use their tactical or strategic reasoning. Others require coordination, manual dexterity, memory, and deductive abilities. On the other hand, there are some that are based purely on chance.

Regardless of the type of board game, we know that playing has remarkable psychological benefits. We’ve listed some of them here. That said, surely the most important benefits are that they allow us to enjoy ourselves, entertain ourselves with our friends or family, and also learn!

“Play is the work of childhood.”

-Jean Piaget-

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  • Estrada-Plana, V. et al. (2020). Cognitive training with modern board and card games in healthy older adults: two randomized controlled trials. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 36(6), 839-850. https://doi.org/10.1002/gps.5484
  • Estrada-Plana, V., Esquerda, M., Mangues, R., March-Llanes, J. & Moya-Higueras, J. (2019). A Pilot Study of the Efficacy of a Cognitive Training Based on Board Games in Children with ADHD: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Games for Health Journal. Published on-line January 17th 2019. DOI: 10.1089/g4h.2018.0051

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.