Friendly talks improve mental function

Washington: A new study has suggested that talking with other people in a friendly way can make it easier to solve common problems.

However, the new University of Michigan study also states that conversations, which are competitive in tone, rather than cooperative, have no cognitive benefits.

"This study shows that simply talking to other people, the way you do when you`re making friends, can provide mental benefits," said lead author of the study, psychologist Oscar Ybarra.

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.

They found that engaging in brief 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," he concluded.

The study was published in journal ‘Social Psychological and Personality Science’.