Bridge (along with other activities such as chess) is a mindsport that has cognitive benefits for those who take part. Bridge has an additional advantage in that it is always played in partnership with four players at the table and is often a team activity, thereby offering social connection.
Bridge is a mindsport for all ages and genders, with players competing with and against each other on an equal basis. It has benefits for young people, teaching mathematical and logical techniques, and improving social skills such as empathy and cooperation. It is played by older people, helping to keep their minds active and combatting potential social isolation. At an elite level, it is played both by amateurs and professionals, with world championships contested by international teams including junior teams of players up to 25 years old. Families also play together, enhancing intergenerational connection and communication.
Bridge: A MindSport for All (BAMSA) is a charitable project based at the University of Stirling. It was formed to enable academics to carry out sociological research and to work collaboratively with bridge organisations. Led by Professor Samantha Punch, BAMSA has produced a number of research papers exploring the benefits of bridge from their Bridging Minds project. The first published paper, Performing Identity in the Mindsport Bridge, has had over 1700 views and downloads. The article demonstrates the value of the partnership element in bridge. Players learn to adapt to and to accommodate their partner, building effective communication and cooperation.
BAMSA’s second research paper shows how skills learned at the bridge table can be an advantage in other areas, including business, personal and social life. Transferable life skills include strategic planning, flexibility in problem-solving, concentration and focus. These are developed alongside interpersonal skills, resilience and emotional self-control. The Bridging Minds research illustrates not only the intellectual challenge of the partnership mindsport, but also the opportunities it offers for social and emotional development.
Prior to Covid-19, bridge was mainly a face-to-face activity, played in bridge clubs, community halls and people’s homes. During the various lockdowns, digital bridge has become more popular. Before 2020, the online bridge platforms were solely digital, with messages between participants being typed on-screen. Platforms, like ‘RealBridge’, are now available that incorporate video and audio communication, which provides further scope for participants to socialise.
One positive story from the pandemic in relation to bridge is that as bridge clubs closed around the world, the mindsport shifted online and the global bridge community supported many players to become digitally literate for the first time. BAMSA’s Covid Impacts on Bridge study shows that many 80-year-olds who had never used a computer before are now playing online bridge. Having now embraced new technologies in order to continue their hobby, this has enabled them to be more socially connected with family and friends during lockdown. Many over-70s have described online bridge as a 'lifesaver' during the pandemic.
When Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, many players are looking forward to returning to face-to-face bridge, to increase their social interaction and to combat loneliness. However, the new online facilities will still be available, allowing players with reduced mobility to stay engaged, thereby improving mental health outcomes. Another positive story is that online bridge is attractive for use in schools. A Scottish school in Inverness is leading the way with digital bridge. The staff have emphasised the development of new technological skills, communication skills and multi-tasking skills. The head teacher has commented that the concentration of the pupils is remarkable.
BAMSA hosted the 4th International Bridge Conference: Bridging Academia, Policy and Practice, a four-day online event opening on Monday 28 June. More than 70 presenters and panellists from 20 countries contributed to the programme. The free event brought together people from all backgrounds and hosted 60 presenters from 20 countries. For further information on the conference, including research and resources, please visit the event website.
Professor Samantha Punch