Turns Out, Your HQ Obsession Isn't Making You Smarter After All

Updated 01/31/18
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Every day at 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. ET, the HQ Trivia app issues a siren call to its loyal followers in the form of a push notification: "HQ is live! Are you ready to play?" At once, hundreds of thousands of users collectively swarm the app, turning their undivided attention to live host Scott Rogowsky and co. for a chance to claim an elusive share of the $2000, $10,000, or $18,000 prize.

Dubbed "the best worst thing on the internet" by The New York Times' Amanda Hess, HQ has quietly amassed roughly one million users since coming onto the scene in the fall of 2017. As Hess points out, the quality of the game, both in terms of the technology and the questions themselves, is subpar—but this crudeness only contributes to its charm.

"HQ's failures are, I believe, crucial to its appeal. The game pulls you in by dangling a cash prize, offers manic highs and seething frustrations in quick succession, then dumps you out, usually empty-handed," she explains. But "if you answer a question correctly, you still get that high of intellectual superiority."

If you, like Hess, are a self-proclaimed "HQ slave," you've likely wondered whether all of this fact recall and memorization is actually doing your brain any good. Considering that trivia is generally viewed (at least by us) as a more constructive use of your leisure time compared to, say, watching Netflix, HQ fanatics likely don't feel the same twinge of guilt while playing HQ as they do after binge-watching an entire TV series in one sitting.

Unfortunately, research out of the University of Toronto would have to respectfully disagree with this sentiment. "We always idealize the person who can smash a trivia game, but the point of memory is not being able to remember who won the Stanley Cup in 1972," says study author Blake Richards. "The point of memory," he continues, "is to make you an intelligent person who can make decisions given the circumstances," as opposed to stockpiling a bank of arguably useless information.

The researchers argue that this is exactly why your brain tends to forget seemingly random information, like where you left your keys or who is the most-followed celebrity on Instagram. "It's important that the brain forgets irrelevant details and instead focuses on the stuff that's going to help make decisions in the real world," continues Richards. "If you're trying to navigate the world and your brain is constantly bringing up multiple conflicting memories, that makes it harder for you to make an informed decision."

When it comes to neuroplasticity, however, mind games like sudoku, puzzles, board games, video games, and similar activities may sharpen your brain's ability to make new connections and, in effect, improve cognitive function. As Entrepreneur reports, "People with high neuroplasticity are less prone to anxiety and depression while learning faster and memorizing more." Want to learn more about the science behind memorization? Head over to Science Alert.

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