How pub trivia can keep your brain sharp and friendships alive

If you ask James Ward to name every country and its capital city, he could reel them off without hesitation.

He can also tell you every US state, Australian Olympic medallist, Australian prime minister, English king and queen, Oscar winner and the order of the periodic table.

Trivia night at the Bridge View Hotel, Willoughby. James Ward (right) with wife Yasmina Ward, and friends Tim Perich and Dave Adcock, who have been participating in trivia nights for more than 20 years.Credit:James Brickwood

Ward has been playing weekly pub trivia for more than 30 years, meaning the 53-year-old knows a lot of ‘stuff’ and while he says the knowledge component of the game is important, for him, it’s the other benefits that keep him coming back.

“I enjoy keeping my brain active, mentally I like to keep stuffing extra information in but more importantly it gives a regular reason to stay in touch with people I care about, it is the ‘RU OK?’ in disguise that is more than just going to the pub,” he says.

The benefits are so great Ward participates in two weekly trivia nights, one with his family and the other with old university friends providing him with the perfect opportunity to socialise and maintain important relationships.

“The benefits are social in that it is a set reason to keep up friendships with long-term relationships as well as family,” he says.

CEO of Relationships Australia NSW, Elisabeth Shaw agrees. She says pub trivia can provide an advantageous setting for social interaction. “For people who are lonely or don’t have many social connections, or for people who value a group activity, pub trivia has the benefits of the social as well as the focus on something outside of the relationships, thereby making it a light and not too socially intense activity,” she says.

Melbourne family team Brothers and Sisters comprises Julie Klancic (60), her elder brother Brian Corstorphan (62), and his two children Stuart (33) and Kira (24). They have played pub trivia weekly at Club Ringwood since 2019. The social benefits are a main reason for their passion and commitment to pub trivia.

“We have always been a close family, but this just gives us something more in common that we can all relate to,” says Klancic.

This is perhaps most profoundly felt by Stuart, who is deaf.

Julie Klancic (second from right) and her family members, Stuart Corstorphan, Kira Corstorphan and Brian Corstorphan, with the Quiz Master Matt Gridley (standing) at pub trivia in Ringwood.Credit:Eddie Jim

“The social and inclusive environment is very important to me. Being deaf, this style of trivia with a PowerPoint presentation and electronic buzzer puts me at ease and I feel gives me a more level playing field with everyone else. I feel included at all times and it helps keep my memory active and I am always learning new things every week,” he says.

While social interaction has proven to be a major factor in improving cognitive health, other inherent components of trivia like learning new facts and recalling older information can also be significant, says Professor Scott Brown from the University of Newcastle.

“Practising pub trivia helps maintain our cognitive reserve, which is especially important as we age as it can provide a buffer against cognitive decline and other forms of dementia. It’s the ‘use it or lose it’ notion where if we keep doing these activities to work our cognitive muscles, it keeps them from atrophying early,” he says.

Professor Brown also says the rewards of getting questions right, or even better, winning, is a plus for your mental health and the dopamine rush can be both rewarding and motivating to learn more.

“Everyone likes to win in any type of competition and winning is nice …. [But] we don’t take ourselves too seriously and whilst we might ‘blame’ each other for losing the points, we laugh it off and come back again the next week to do better,” says Klancic.

Which leads to the greatest trivia question of them all – how do you win?

“Besides making sure you have the main knowledge areas covered, read the daily news. Every trivia night will have two-to-three very current questions,” Ward says.

Klancic says it helps to have at least three people in the team from different age groups and know what genre each member excels in, and be willing to have a go and trust your instincts.

Finally, she says “it doesn’t matter if the answer is wrong. We never knew what a Stimpmeter was until we came to trivia.”

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