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Science Finally Explains Why Men Dominate At Scrabble

Hint: it's because men would rather crush their opponents than enjoy the game.

flickr / MattysFlicks

Men win more often at Scrabble than women—but only because they take it way too seriously. These are the key findings of a new study in the journal Psychological Research, which concluded that men dominate at Scrabble, but also spend a disproportionate amount of time practicing anagrams and strategizing for the win. Women are just playing to have fun.

The study comes on the heels of past findings that, oddly, suggested that men made up 31 percent of participants in official Scrabble competitions, but nabbed some 86 percent of the wins. Similar studies reflect a theme—men consistently outperform women in Scrabble competitions. This left scientists (and graduate students) scratching their heads. “It’s not intuitively obvious why there should be a gender difference in Scrabble,” coauthor on the new study Jerad Moxley of the University of Miami told The Times. So Moxley and his team conducted two experiments to figure it out.

Moxley and colleagues first study analyzed survey responses for 48 female and 85 male competitors in the 2004 U.S. National Scrabble Championship (yes, it’s a thing, we checked). And yet even after they controlled for education, age, and time spent practicing, they found that the best predictor for poor Scrabble performance was being a woman. Moxley and his team could not account for the gender gap, until they administered revised surveys to 63 females and 59 males at the 2008 tournament. These measures indicated that women practiced Scrabble by playing the game socially, while men had an entirely different Scrabble workout regimen—they analyzed past games and practiced anagrams alone, even though they admitted that they did not enjoy this form of preparation. In other words, women played for fun. Men played to win.

Now, the results are limited by self-reporting and the ever-present correlation-causation bias—winning at Scrabble was correlated with being male and memorizing anagrams, but that doesn’t mean one causes the other.

Crucially, Moxley says, the study does not suggest women lack Scrabble skills, or even the drive and grit to practice hard for a worthy goal. Rather, the survey responses imply that women tend to be more realistic than men about the ultimate importance of winning a board game. “There’s not a lot of money in Scrabble,” he says. “Why would you even want to be the best Scrabble player in the world? You could argue it doesn’t make sense.”