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Thursday, 11 July, 2002, 09:56 GMT 10:56 UK
Bingo 'boosts the brain'
Older players did better in some tests
Older players did better in some tests
Playing bingo can keep the mind in trim - and the older you are the more agile you may be, researchers have found.

Tests showed bingo players were faster and more accurate than non-bingo players in a range of tests measuring mental speed, memory and the ability to pick up information from the environment around them.

Around 3m people play bingo in the UK. It is a favourite game of many pensioners.

Players have to be able to check numbers off quickly and need rapid hand-eye co-ordination - but these skills had been thought to decline with age.

Bingo shouldn't be dismissed - as it has been in the past

Julie Winstone, researcher
And unlike chess, bridge and backgammon, which need skills that are stored in the brain and remembered when needed, bingo requires speedy identification within time constraints.

Julie Winstone, from the University of Southampton's Centre for Visual Cognition at the Department of Psychology has been testing bingo players' mental agility over the last year.

She studied the responses of 112 people aged 18 to 40, and older people aged between 60 and 82.

Half of each group played bingo, and the others did not.

She presented her findings to the Annual Conference of the Psychologists Special Interest Group in Older People in Winchester.

Ms Winstone said it was suspected that long-term mental activity - such a bingo - could stave off the decline of cognitive abilities, such as speed and accuracy and recognition of patterns.


Her study tested the skills used while playing bingo.

She tested old and young bingo players as well as people who did not play the game.

All bingo players were faster and more accurate than those who didn't play the game.

But in certain tasks, older players did better than younger ones.

Ms Winstone said these findings were in line with a growing body of research, which suggested regularly taking part in activities which require high levels of mental activity helps to maintain cognitive functioning in later life.

But she said her study was aimed at identifying the mental skills involved in bingo and in order to identify exactly how it boosts the brain.


Ms Winstone told BBC News Online: "I expected bingo players to be better than non-players at bingo skills.

"But interestingly, younger and older players were able to achieve the same level of performance.

"They didn't decrease in their knowledge or skill at the game, and the effectiveness with which they played did not decrease."

Ms Winstone said younger players were faster, but older ones were more accurate in tests.

She added: "Bingo is just as valuable an activity to take part in as bridge, or doing puzzles.

"It uses different processes, and it seems that that best thing is to do a range of activities.

"Bingo shouldn't be dismissed, as it has been in the past."

Ms Winstone, who is studying for a PhD, now plans to do more tests to see if these bingo skills are transferred to other areas of mental skill, and if people have more mental agility before they start playing bingo.

Kelvin Stacey, spokesman for Rank Group Gambling Division, which owns Mecca Bingo, added then: "For those people who play bingo, it gives them a great deal of interest and a great deal of excitement.

"People go and have a bit of fun. but they have to concentrate too.

"It's good for people. It stops them becoming a couch potato."

The BBC's Sue Nelson
The BBC's Sue Nelson
Alan Stockdale, Bingo caller of the year
"It's a preconception that it's blue rinses and wrinkly tights who play bingo"
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