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What is the Feature Match test?
What is the Feature Match test?
Mike Battista avatar
Written by Mike Battista
Updated over a week ago

Feature Match is a game of "spot the difference" with a twist. How quickly can you identify when two similar sets of shapes are not quite as similar as they first appear?

Two boxes will appear on the screen, each containing a complex array of abstract shapes. Are the two boxes identical or are they different? Click MATCH if they are completely identical, or MISMATCH if they are not. If you are correct, the next problem will be more difficult. If you get it wrong, the next problem will be easier. Solve as many problems as you can in 90 seconds.

Optimizing Performance

In this test:

  • Accuracy does matter; wrong answers subtract from your score, and cause the difficulty of the next puzzle to be lower.

  • Speed does matter; you have 90 seconds to solve as many puzzles as you can.

So to get maximum points, take care to answer accurately, but do it as quickly as you can.

Video instructions.

Performance tips:

  • More difficult puzzles are worth more points, but will also subtract more points if you get them wrong.

  • Therefore, it can be best to take more time with more difficult puzzles—the stakes are higher! On the other hand, fitting in one more difficult puzzle before the timer expires can make a big difference. You'll have to find the right balance of risk and reward.

  • Experiment with the things that are under your control. How many shapes do you pay attention to at once? How many times do you move your eyes back and forth before committing to an answer? Try changing your routine to push past your high score.

Domain Scores

Your score on this test contributes to:

  • Your reasoning score (a lot).

  • Your short-term memory score (a bit).

  • Your verbal ability score (a bit).

The contribution of each test to each performance category is based on a "factor analysis" that looked at how tests tend to clump together when measuring a massive set of data. The results were published in Neuron in 2012 (Hampshire, Highfield, Parkin, & Owen, 2012). The exact contribution of each test to each performance category may change as more data is collected.

The Science Behind Feature Match

This test measures your brain's ability to perceive and process complex visual stimuli.

Adrian Owen, Chief Scientific Officer, explains the science behind feature matching.

Feature Match is a perceptual test, which requires you to concentrate and focus your attention on complex images. The scientists behind this website have been working to understand how we are able to control our attention. One study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of volunteers while they were required to look out for a specific picture from a number of different images that were presented. We found that a region in the front of your brain, known as the mid-ventrolateral frontal cortex, responded whenever the image the subject was looking for appeared, even though this image changed regularly throughout the course of the experiment.

We concluded that this region of the brain selectively adapts to represent relevant information, playing an important role in tuning your attention (Hampshire et al., 2007). When you play Feature Match, as you concentrate on particular features of the images to compare them to one another, you are activating the mid-ventrolateral frontal cortex within your brain.

Feature Match in the Real World

Does it feel like it's easier to spot a difference than it is to confirm that boxes are identical? When comparing two things, people have a deep-seated tendency to cancel out features that are the same and only pay attention to differences. It's generally a good strategy, because differences are what distinguish choices. However, it can have side effects, like ignoring how similar two options really are, or affecting future decisions. In one study (Hodges, 1997), participants had to compare the desirability of apartments. When comparing two apartments, they "filed away" features that overlapped between the choices. When a third apartment was then rated, their decision was "messed up," as the researchers put it, because they had already filed away features relevant to evaluating the apartment.

Performance in our Feature Match test is a little more basic than complex real-world decisions, however. These basic attention processes can be affected by lifestyle choices and the health of your brain. Exercise, for example, can have positive long-term effects on cognition by promoting good health, but it can also have an immediate effect. One recent study (Loprinzi & Kane, 2015) found that a 30-minute bout of moderate-intensity exercise immediately boosted performance on a feature match test. Try Feature Match after your next workout and see if you can beat your high score! And don't forget to log that exercise in your journal.


Hampshire A., Thompson R., Duncan J., & Owen A.M. (2009). Selective tuning of the right inferior frontal gyrus during target detection. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 9, 103–112. Read Article

Hodges, S. D. (1997). When matching up features messes up decisions: The role of feature matching in successive choices. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72 (6), 1310-1321. Download PDF

Loprinzi, P. D., & Kane, C. J. (2015). Exercise and cognitive funciton: A randomized controlled trila examining acute exercise and free-living physical activity and sedentary effects. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 90 (4), 450-460. Read Abstract

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