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