Memory & Cognition

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 1-7

First online:

How a hobby can shape cognition: visual word recognition in competitive Scrabble players

  • Ian S. HargreavesAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Calgary
  • , Penny M. PexmanAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of CalgaryDepartment of Psychology, University of Calgary Email author 
  • , Lenka ZdrazilovaAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Calgary
  • , Peter SargiousAffiliated withDepartment of Medicine, University of Calgary


Competitive Scrabble is an activity that involves extraordinary word recognition experience. We investigated whether that experience is associated with exceptional behavior in the laboratory in a classic visual word recognition paradigm: the lexical decision task (LDT). We used a version of the LDT that involved horizontal and vertical presentation and a concreteness manipulation. In Experiment 1, we presented this task to a group of undergraduates, as these participants are the typical sample in word recognition studies. In Experiment 2, we compared the performance of a group of competitive Scrabble players with a group of age-matched nonexpert control participants. The results of a series of cognitive assessments showed that the Scrabble players and control participants differed only in Scrabble-specific skills (e.g., anagramming). Scrabble expertise was associated with two specific effects (as compared to controls): vertical fluency (relatively less difficulty judging lexicality for words presented in the vertical orientation) and semantic deemphasis (smaller concreteness effects for word responses). These results suggest that visual word recognition is shaped by experience, and that with experience there are efficiencies to be had even in the adult word recognition system.


Word recognition Expertise Lexical processing Individual differences