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Why Are Most Scrabble Champions Male?

Words with Friends, one of the most popular word games on the internet, has just received a new upgrade. The update to "the excellent cross-platform Scrabble ripoff," writes Gizmodo's Kyle VanHemert, "[brings] a variety of bug fixes, full multitasking support, and, most majorly, Facebook Connect integration. Now, instead of asking for and tapping in your friend’s username to challenge them, you can link the app to your FB account and see a list of all your friends, acquaintances, classmates, hookups, exes, enemies, frenemies, friends turned enemies, professors, relatives and excommunicated relatives who have the app installed, and challenge them more conveniently that way." In short, it is even easier now to find friends to procrastinate with play against, ensuring that even more people will be playing these games. But, given the enduring popularity and widespread availability of Scrabble and similar word game knock offs, why are Scrabble champions typically male, when women normally do better on tests of verbal memory?

In 2007, Vanderbilt's Jonathan Wai and Claremont McKenna's Diane Halpern pitted expert Scrabble players against "high-achieving college students on a battery of cognitive tests," and found that the best Scrabble players relied not on verbal abilities, but on spatial abilities, where men tend to score better. Not only did Scrabble experts score better than the students on several visuospatial tests, but a memory test "showed that better players, as identified by their official Scrabble rating, performed better on memory for Scrabble boards than players with lower ratings both when the spatial rules of the game were violated and when the rules of Scrabble were violated with too many blank tiles, but not when the violation was a misspelled word or the board was legitimate." Wai and Halpern write that, "as expertise develops, players should become more reliant on the visuospatial nature of the game than its verbal components because the meaning of words is not relevant for successful play."If you want a tough "Words with Friends" opponent, then, challenge an architect.

For more research on what’s in the news, check out the rest of TNR’s newest blog, The Study.