September 04, 2020 6 min read 0 Comments

One commonly accepted benefit of working on jigsaw puzzles is its impact on how we feel; both avid and more casual puzzle enthusiasts do not have to be convinced. Generally we feel good because we are working toward a goal and engaging in creative problem-solving.

At Aspire Puzzles, we are taking this a meaningful step further, driven by the question “Does the content of what is on the puzzle matter?” We believe so, and in this paper, we summarize empirical evidence that suggests that it does.

While to date, no empirical research has studied the question of whether the combination of positive affirmations and solving puzzles has measurable positive effects in people completing the puzzle, that doesn’t mean that these positive effects don’t exist. To the contrary, a diverse array of empirical literature converges to suggest that there are a multitude of positive effects that can be obtained from working on our puzzles.

We will break down the literature base into areas of focus and summarize findings that relate to the theoretical and evidence-based findings that support the idea that these puzzles offer something special.


Theoretical support

Directing our attention first toward well-established psychological theories, research arising from some social psychology theories suggest the benefits of the impact of exposure to the positive affirmations in our puzzles. 

Self-affirmation theory argues that we strive to maintain our self-identity and integrity in ways that we personally value in order to be moral, flexible, and good (Steele, 1988). Research in self-affirmation research shows that value affirmations often boost adaptive functioning. Howell, A.J. (2017) reviewed research on the impact of self-affirmation on overall well-being.

The power of positive affirmations

Many have sought to demonstrate the impact of positive affirmations on mental health and related outcomes. One well-established finding is that self-affirmations are associated with decreased stress (Critcher & Dunning, 2015);

Research suggests that the role of positive affirmations appears to be specific to the individual. According to Wood and colleagues (2009), positive self-statements may benefit certain individuals, such as those with high self-esteem, but may be less useful or not at all useful for others.

Affirmations activate important areas in our brains

When daily affirmations are meaningful to an individual, studies show that the reward center in the brain is activated (Dutcher et al, 2020). This is the area that makes people feel good and strive to repeat a behavior, perhaps to continue to seek out positivity. Dutcher, who studies the effects of self-affirmation, believes that individuals are internalizing an affirmation in a way that is relevant for them.

Similarly, from a related research base, what we know about mantras is that silently repeating a single word or phrase to yourself quiets the default mode network, the system responsible for your mind wandering, having the effect of calming us (Berkovich-Ohana, 2015).

Benefits of jigsaw puzzles and creative problem solving.

Jigsaw puzzles have a range of applications, from cognitive development across the lifespan, education, and cognitive function in older adults. It has been used to study goal-achievement, focus, concentration, and a variety of mental health outcomes. Some of the benefits commonly associated with working on jigsaw puzzles include:


  • Enhances memory, attention span, and problem solving abilities
  • Emotional health benefits, including increasing self-esteem and reducing anxiety
  • Enhances social bonding as a group activity and teamwork
  • Mindfulness, meditative benefits
  • Strengthens eye-hand coordination (in child development)
  • And of course, they are a fun activity

Fissler et al (2018) concluded that working on jigsaw puzzles engages multiple cognitive abilities. There can be cognitive gains from regular puzzle activities. Similarly, according to Cora Garcia (2016) “one of the benefits, pleasures or rewards of engagement in leisure activities (such as puzzles) is the way these activities facilitate the wandering of our minds toward productive thoughts, images, insights, memories, and emotions.”


The benefit of jigsaw puzzles with positive affirmations

Taken together, we believe we are onto something novel. We know recognize the many benefits of completing jigsaw puzzles as well as the emotional health benefits of positive thinking as well as using positive affirmations among many individuals. This has never been done before, so it has not yet been studied.

Can a puzzle designed to help people also feel good really promote such benefits? It is entirely possible; and if you are open to the experience, we suggest that you see for yourself.



Puzzle completion

500 pieces takes 2 hours-8 hours to solve

Interview w a psychology professor (spatial perception)

“Enjoyable puzzles fall into a medium range of solvability, which provide participants with an intermediate level of variable rewards. Successful puzzle mastery may also imbue status and personal satisfaction.”

 “Higher-order visuospatial processing is more in the right hemisphere, while the left hemisphere is responsible for language processing. Math skills are dependent on the left hemisphere as well. The frontal lobe is responsible for executive functions, including organization, strategy and working memory.”


Berkovich-Ohana A, Wilf M, Kahana R, Arieli A, Malach R. Repetitive speech elicits widespread deactivation in the human cortex: the "Mantra" effect?. Brain Behav. 2015;5(7):e00346. doi:10.1002/brb3.346


Howell, A.J. Self-Affirmation Theory and the Science of Well-Being. J Happiness Stud 18, 293–311 (2017).


Positive self-statements: Power for some, peril for others
JV Wood, WQ Elaine Perunovic, JW Lee. Psychological Science 20 (7), 860-866 “repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, such as individuals with high self-esteem,


Critcher and Dunning. Self-Affirmations Provide a Broader Perspective on Self-Threat  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 2015, Vol. 41(1) 3–18


Effects of jigsaw puzzles

Angela Cora Garcia (2016) An explorer in a cardboard land: emotion, memory, and the embodied experience of doing jigsaw puzzles, International Journal of Play, 5:2, 166-180, DOI: 10.1080/21594937.2016.1203916

The main focal point of the paper is the connection between engagement in a physical activity (completing a puzzle) and how the mind works and where it goes during the performance of that activity. The goal of the paper is to illustrate the connections between action and thought, and to show how one of the benefits, pleasures or rewards of engagement in leisure activities is the way these activities facilitate the wandering of our minds toward productive thoughts, images, insights, memories, and emotions. These findings may aid our understanding of the nature and appeal of playing games or participating in various types of leisure activities.

Fissler et al. Jigsaw Puzzling Taps Multiple Cognitive Abilities and Is a Potential Protective Factor for Cognitive Aging. Aging Neurosci., 01 October 2018 | “jigsaw puzzling strongly engages multiple cognitive abilities and long-term, but not short-term JP experiences could relevantly benefit cognition.”

Self-affirmation theory:

Steele, C. M. (1988). The psychology of self-affirmation: Sustaining the integrity of the self. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 21, pp. 261-302). New York, NY: Academic Press.

Howell, A.J. Self-Affirmation Theory and the Science of Well-Being. J Happiness Stud 18, 293–311 (2017).

prediction of well-being.

Most effective Google scholar search: reading positive words effect on emotion

Looking at emotional words is not the same as reading emotional words: Behavioral and neural correlates

José A. Hinojosa Constantino Méndez‐Bértolo Miguel A. Pozo First published:09 June 2010 Citations:33

Dutcher JM, Eisenberger NI, Woo H, et al. Neural Mechanisms of Self-Affirmation's Stress Buffering Effects [published online ahead of print, 2020 Apr 4]. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2020;nsaa042. doi:10.1093/scan/nsaa042


Neural correlates of written emotion word processing: A review of recent electrophysiological and hemodynamic neuroimaging studies-- Useful neuro review

Brain Lang. 2012 Sep;122(3):211-26. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2011.12.007. Epub 2012 Jan 25.

Emotion Words’ Effect on Visual Awareness and Attention of Emotional Faces The present study examined the roles of word concreteness and word valence in the immediate serial recall task. Emotion words (e.g. happy) were used to investigate these effects. Participants completed study-test trials with seven-item study lists consisting of positive or negative words with either high or low concreteness (Experiments 1 and 2) and neutral (i.e. non-emotion) words with either high or low concreteness (Experiment 2). For neutral words, the typical word concreteness effect (concrete words are better recalled than abstract words) was replicated. For emotion words, the effect occurred for positive words, but not for negative words. While the word concreteness effect was stronger for neutral words than for negative words, it was not different for the neutral words and the positive words. We conclude that both word valence and word concreteness simultaneously contribute to the item and order retention of emotion words and discuss how Hulme et al.'s (1997) item redintegration account can be modified to explain these findings.

Not in support of hypothesis more important than words

Not relevant but interesting


There is no research cited within:

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Todd Luebke
Todd Luebke

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