Friends With Cognitive Benefits: Social Interaction Helps Problem Solving

Speaking with others in a friendly, rather than competitive tone boosts the part of the brain that helps us solve everyday problems.

Did you know speaking with others in a friendly way increases intellectual capacity, mainly the “executive function,” which includes working memory, behavioral inhibition or concentration?

A recent study by researchers at the University of Michigan tested 192 undergraduates to determine which types of social interaction helped and which didn’t. The researchers concluded that engaging in short conversations where participants were instructed to get to know one another person boosted their performance on a variety of cognitive tasks. When participants engaged in conversations that were competitive in nature, their performance on cognitive tasks showed no improvement. “This study shows that simply talking to other people, the way you do when you’re making friends, can provide mental benefits,” says University of Michigan psychologist Oscar Ybarra, lead author and researcher of the study reported in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Ybarra and colleagues examined the impact of brief episodes of social contact on one key component of mental activity — executive function. This cognitive function includes memory, self-monitoring, and the ability to suppress external and internal distraction, all crucial components in solving common problems.

Ybarra further explains

“We believe that performance boosts come about because some social interactions induce people to try to read others’ minds and take their perspectives on things. And we also find that when we structure even competitive interactions to have an element of taking the other person’s perspective, or trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, there is a boost in executive functioning as a result.”

The practical conclusions derived from the research study suggest enhanced performance on certain kinds of intellectual tasks, and leaves the reader with the following advice: “If you want to perform your best, having a friendly chat with a colleague before a big presentation or test may be a good strategy.”

University of Michigan Institute for Social Research

[via Tim Boucher]

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