by Dr. Shelagh Robinson Psychologist, OPQ
(Montreal, Quebec, Canada)
Fast, focused, head-to-head Sudoku action. Timed, of course – the pace is competitive. Bragging rights are up for the puzzler who finds their numbers first in this unique grid. It’s an ‘Easy’ puzzle – with a full 32 digits already showing. No problem? There’s a twist: This puzzle is backwards.
Seriously backwards, as in reversed. Or more precisely, mirrored. Studies of Sudoku have taken it through the looking glass. What for?
Investigations of mental rotation. What intrigues researchers are the spatial aptitudes involved, and the transferability to real life tasks.
Mirror Readuku plays in the usual way. You don’t even have to write the numbers backwards – though it may increase your speed you if you do. The point is to accomplish a familiar task of numeric logic, and engage regions of the brain specifically associated with mental rotation. Quickly.
Devised by Dr Shelagh Robinson, Psychologist and researcher in Montreal, this spin on the classic game emerged out of a pilot study on reading backwards text. Robinson, whose first focus is mirror reading, investigates practice effects in relation to reverse decoding and measures of working memory, navigation, and mental transformation.
You’ve probably heard about brain plasticity in relation to ‘neurobics’ – the observation that mental exercises, especially those that stimulate the brain in unique ways, can activate the growth of new dendrites and even new neurons. Our
cortices rewire themselves, becoming more efficient – finding shortcuts and increasing resilience, depending on the task.
To date there is little evidence to show that learning a specific mental exercise can “spill- over” to other untrained areas of function. Investigators conclude, however, that Sudoku performance does share a significant relationship to working memory, and that “Sudoku has the potential to become a new focus in the study of mental exercise and cognitive aging” (Grabbe, 2011).
What is required are more applied studies of Sudoku as well as explorations of practice interactions – for example involving combinations of numeric logic and mental rotation activities. Enter Mirror Readoku – a game that challenges
brains to organize ideas and complete tasks from an exciting perspective.
The first moment of this game is the strangest, and the most revealing. The brain screams WRONG. But hold on – look for the familiar patterns. Just begin. In fact, the numbers are easy to recognize – even when reversed. You may be
surprised by how quickly your juggling skills develop – often in mere minutes.
How do images of brains after Mirror Readoku practice differ from from those of regular players? And what are the applications of this information to our sidewalk lives? Studies in the area are ongoing. Sudoku is a game of left-brained reasoning and analytical skills, but the ability to efficiently mentally transform the mirrored numbers transcends logic. It becomes more
intuitive – knowing without knowing how. This sort of holistic transformational thinking draws on right brain abilities.
While mirror reading and writing have been noted since ancient times, and explored for various ends – see Leonardo da Vinci – it’s only with recent neuro-imaging developments that studies in the area have caught the attention of mental rotation and memory specialists. FMRI investigations of mirror reading show that decoding reversed text excites the brain in ways that are very different from regular reading – which draws heavily on left-brain competencies.
Ilg’s (2008) neuroimaging studies conclude that mirror reading practice stimulates grey matter growth in right-brain regions associated with mental rotation and object recognition. While often associated with dyslexia, efficiently decoding reversed letters and numbers represents difference, not disability, and may signal profound aptitudes that can be developed.
What’s clear from initial observations is that mirroring the numbers complicates the game, both confounding and inspiring players. Some
non-Sudoku-ers may be faster than Sudoku experts. 6s and 2s tend to get mixed up. Lefties could have advantages.
For individuals intrigued by the possibility of exploring hidden talents, there’s lots to be learned. There are plenty of right-brained skills that many of us would like to master. These include ordinary activities like pattern recognition and navigation, and more complex tasks involving mental manipulation of imaginary objects. The ability to turn concepts over in our
minds is a sought-after potential. Even incremental increases can be invaluable if they confer an edge.
Care to take on the latest Mirror Readoku? Observe your own strategies of problem-solving, mentally juggling numbers while applying the rules of the Sudoku grid. Catch yourself in the act of learning.
For sheer novelty value it’s worth trying out. To this end, Shelagh has sent one of her latest puzzles. Send your best time and feedback:
Research on neuronal, and real life, benefits of playing Mirror Readoku, and Mirror Reading, are in progress. To get involved, please contact Dr. Shelagh Robinson.