ScienceDaily reports on Oscar Ybarra’s recent research showing the link between friendly social interaction and an improvement in ‘executive function’, basically boosting cognition in a beneficial way.
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’s 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 don’t.
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.
“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,” Ybarra said. “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 studies further showed that the improvement in mental function was limited to tasks assessing executive function. Neither processing speed nor general knowledge were affected by the type of social interaction engaged in by participants.
This suggests that work places where friendly interaction is the norm should have more focused and production workers, while settings where friendly interaction is less prevalent should lead to the opposite, negative effects on cognition.
For developers of social tools designed for the workplace, there should be a great deal of attention spent trying to make friendly interactions low cost. For example, including a wide variety of ways to allow users to interact, and to support haptic gestures: pats on the back, digital ‘waves’, shout outs.
So before you attend a big meeting where you’ll be presenting your department’s budget request for the next year in front of the company’s top executives, a ten minute conversation with a trusted colleague on that issue — or even an unrelated topics, like your upcoming vacation — may improve your delivery and the way you handle the tough questions.
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- Social Cognition Trumps IQ In Groups (stoweboyd.com)