Right about this time in our hectic quarter system (week 7 of 10), one grabs at any opportunity to get a little bit of extra zip out of the old neurons. So among the many news feeds crossing my desktop, one really stood out–how to make myself smarter! I’m definitely going to read that paper.

In a nutshell, Oscar Ybarra of the University of Michigan and his colleagues suggest that human beings are such social animals, that we actually improve our cognitive function after only ten minutes of social interaction [1].

Students were randomly assigned to dyads and given the task of discussing a social issue, protection of privacy, for ten minutes. Other participants took a short reading comprehension task, did a crossword puzzle, and completed a figure rotation task. These tasks were designed to give the participants something intellectually stimulating to do that was not particularly social, as the tasks were completed by individuals working alone. Control participants watched a 10-minute sequence of Seinfeld by themselves. Subsequently, all participants completed a speed of processing task (are these dots the same or different?) and a working memory task (object recognition).

Based on previous research, it was not surprising to see the participants doing the intellectual activities (figure rotation et al.) showed higher levels of cognitive functioning in the post-tests compared to the TV-watching control group. I have always thought that most TV makes us somewhat brain-dead, and much prefer to see children using any indoors time playing interactive videogames than watching TV. Okay, Stargate and football are obvious exceptions at our house.

What was relatively surprising was the finding that the social interaction group did just as well as the intellectual group.

So the moral of this story is that you shouldn’t put your Sudoku books away just yet, as this type of activity is very good for your brain, but you can add socializing with your friends and family to the list of activities that help keep you mentally healthy. Now I won’t feel so guilty about taking time away from my desk to join Mr. F on our daily treks to the Nautical Bean.

1.  Ybarra, O., Burnstein, E., Winkielman, P., Keller, M.C., Manis, M., Chan, E., & Rodriguez, J. (2008). Mental exercising through simple socialization: Social interaction promotes general cognitive functioning. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 248.   pdf 


bldrysdale · February 22, 2008 at 12:54 am

This makes classes seem like they can be easier. Just take little breaks to socialize and then your brain works better! Also seems to support why people starting college should move into a residence hall situation.

stclark · February 22, 2008 at 12:43 pm

Really, the premise that socialization make us smarter comes as no great surprise to me.
Firstly, as great as sudoku is it doesn’t change as you play it, forcing you to adapt and answer in kind. Dynamic conversations with others change subject, level of intensity, and language style as they go along, which forces a person’s brain to adapt to incoming info and formulate context specific answers.
Secondly, SLT teaches us that we learn much of what we know in a social context by watching, mimicing (sp?) behavior and speech patterns, and being socially rewarded for certain behaviors. Its not surprising then, that increasing your level of socialization with others would teach you more, making you smarter!
Thirdly, Greek philosophers taught us years and years ago that intellectual dialogue and rhetorical discourse with other rational people is a good thing. Science takes a while to catch up, doesn’t it ?!

rnadams · February 24, 2008 at 5:55 pm

This definitely makes sense to me. Intense studying seems to lock my brain into a certain mode and make it hard to actually grasp the logic/big picture. When I socialize, I am constantly required to use my brain in multiple ways- not to mention I’m way happier and less stressed. Learning is so much easier when you’re in good mental state.

biopsych · February 24, 2008 at 10:40 pm

Socialization is a great source of knowledge. We all experience/learn new information on a daily basis and this information comes out in our conversations with one another. When my roommates are all in the living room studying together we share fascinating information that we just read or what we learned in class. Talking with others keeps the mind active and gives us the opportunity to examine topics from other people’s perspectives.

bhidahl · February 24, 2008 at 10:48 pm

This is very interesting…makes me wonder if quieting those social butterflies in elementary school actually does the child more harm than good. I understand that socialization is important for many reasons, but I never considered that it could actually make you perform just as well on tests as crossword puzzles and other cognitive functions. But I’m curious if this works only when discussing matters of “importance” – rather than who got voted off survivor last night or what you did this weekend. Either way, next time a friend interrupts my studying in the UU, ill be sure to take a few minutes to catch up with them!

rcrowley · February 26, 2008 at 6:16 pm

I have heard many people say that doing crossword puzzles or other cognitive activities reduce the risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. I do not know of any significant research that has been performed to test the validity of that theory, but assuming that it has some degree of relevance, I am curious if social activities as described above would provide the same benefits. It may be an interesting area of research in the future. Before that could be determined, I would imagine that the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s would have to improve, but it is an interesting hypothesis to consider: as people age, the degree of social interaction often decreases; perhaps this has a significant effect on the progression or severity of Alzheimer’s.

aoneil · March 3, 2008 at 6:17 pm

It doesn’t surprise me that intellectually stimulating activities, like reading a book, rather than less stimulating activities, like watching television, prove beneficial to mental health. This article just reemphasizes the importance of extracurricular activities in children’s lives, whether it’s band, sports, drama, or any other social activity. The majority of what we learn does not come from the classroom or the textbook, but it comes from interacting with our peers and fulfilling life experiences.
This might help explain why certain people in our society manage to be successful despite having little education. What some people lack in “book smarts,” they might make up for in people skills and worldly knowledge. One of my friends is a worldly traveler, and has been fortunate enough to see as many places as most of us hope to see in a life time. From what she has shared of her experiences, and her high level of understanding of other cultures, it is clear that she possesses a different kind of knowledge; a knowledge that can not be found in a textbook.

ccallag · March 10, 2008 at 8:29 pm

Thats interesting! I wouldn’t have thought that the social group would have scored the same as the people who were alone. I didn’t think that social interaction would make such a difference on intelligence. I wonder if people who stay socially active all their lives would show less problems with Alzheimer’s or any brain disease in their later years..

reggie · March 11, 2008 at 11:20 am

I totally agree with this research. As for me, I grew up a very social person. I wasn’t really much into reading books or studying right after school. All I wanted to do was to socialize with my friends! I know there is always a time for work and play so I made sure my studying time balanced out with my social time. I believe that not only socializing is a break from studying, but also a way of gaining knowledge. What I mean by that is sometimes you learn many things depending on who you hang out with. For example, I have a friend who knows tons about cars. And whenever I talk to him about that subject, I always seem to gain something new. Sometimes it’s not “what you know, but who you know”

jensoc07 · March 13, 2008 at 8:43 am

While the results to this study may not be particularly suprising, it is comforting to know that the many hours we as college students spend socializing has a positive effect on our cognitive functions. A lot of times I feel like I learn more applicable information through interacting with people and forming social connections than I do in some of my classes. A lot of people have different perspectives on life and interacting with a diverse group of people allows you to think in different ways and see the world through different perspectives. It makes me think that we are all just paying to be able to be in an area of high population density. It is also fun to know that taking that study break on a week night to go hang out with friends might not be such a bad idea.

Vix · May 1, 2008 at 8:29 pm

I’m very intelligent myself. Because I read all the time and I always look at Google or Yahoo! searches to know more about something. On the other hand, I’m also a realist who always tells the truth and never lies. Privacy is very important to me since I’m very quiet and shy, and I’m much better at spelling words rather then pronouncing them.

I know you prefer to see children play video games rather then watching TV, but computers is always good too. It helps you learn how to draw, write and know the world.

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