Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Cognitive Benefits

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Cognitive Benefits

Article excerpt

Talking with other people in a friendly way can make it easier to solve common problems, a new University of Michigan (U-M) study shows. But conversations that are competitive in tone, rather than cooperative, have no cognitive benefits.

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"This study shows that simply talking to other people, the way you do when you're making friends, can provide mental benefits," says psychologist Oscar Ybarra, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research. Ybarra is lead author of the study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

For the study, the researchers examined the impact of brief episodes of social contact on one key component of mental activity--executive function. This type of cognitive function includes working memory, self-monitoring, and the ability to suppress external and internal distractions--all of which are essential in solving common life problems.

In previous research, Ybarra has found that social interaction provides a short-term boost to executive function that is comparable in size to playing brain games, such as solving crossword puzzles. In the current series of studies, he and colleagues tested 192 undergraduates to pinpoint which types of social interactions help--and which do not.

They found that engaging in brief (10-minute) conversations in which participants were simply instructed to get to know another person resulted in boosts to their subsequent performance on an array of common cognitive tasks. But when participants engaged in conversations that had a competitive edge, their performance on cognitive tasks showed no improvement. …

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