“Spending just 10 minutes talking to another person can help improve your memory and your performance on tests, according to a University of Michigan study to be published in the February 2008 issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
” ‘In our study, socializing was just as effective as more traditional kinds of mental exercise in boosting memory and intellectual performance,’ said Oscar Ybarra, a psychologist at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR) and a lead author of the study with ISR psychologist Eugene Burnstein and psychologist Piotr Winkielman from the University of California, San Diego….According to Ybarra, the findings suggest that visiting with a friend or neighbor may be just as helpful in staying sharp as doing a daily crossword puzzle.
“The findings also suggest that social isolation may have a negative effect on intellectual abilities as well as emotional well-being. And for a society characterized by increasing levels of social isolationa trend sociologist Robert Putnam calls Bowling Alone the effects could be far-reaching.”
For the moment, their evidence is correlational (and relies on pre-existing archival data), and they can’t rule out that it is the intellectual effort generated during the social activities (like playing games) that produces the increase in intelligence or conversely that it is caused by a third unknown common factor. They plan follow-up work to better understand the relationship and any causal mechanism.
P.S. Jane Brody recently reported on this body of research as well in “Mental Reserves Keep Brains Agile“
(NY Times, 12/11/07). Brody reports: “Long-term studies in other countries, including Sweden and China, have also found that continued social interactions helped protect against dementia. The more extensive an older person’s social network, the better the brain is likely to work, the research suggests. Especially helpful are productive or mentally stimulating activities pursued with other people, like community gardening, taking classes, volunteering or participating in a play-reading group.”