Being a hermit, at any age, may be detri-mental to your cognitive function. A new study at the University of Michigan, suggests that social interaction improves memory and cognitive function. In fact socializing proved to be just as effective as mental exercises in improving memory retention and intellectual performance. Conversely, they believe that social isolation may have a negative effect on cognitive function.
The first study involved participants aged 24 to 96. The participants were asked about their level of social interaction with friends and family, how often they talked on the phone or got together. They were then given a mini mental exam - a widely used test that measures knowledge of personal information and current events and that also includes a simple test of working memory.
The higher the level of participants' social interaction, researchers found, the better their cognitive functioning. This relationship was reliable for all age groups, from the youngest through the oldest.
Researchers conducted a second experiment involving only college students. The students were divided into three groups and participated in one of three activities before an examination. One group discussed a social issue for ten minutes, the second group did a reading comprehension test and a crossword puzzle and the third group watched ten minutes of Seinfeld. All three groups then took two tests to measure working memory and mental processing speed.
"We found that short-term social interaction lasting for just 10 minutes boosted participants' intellectual performance as much as engaging in so-called 'intellectual' activities for the same amount of time," Ybarra said.
"To our knowledge, this experiment represents the only causal evidence showing that social interaction directly affects memory and mental performance in a positive way."
After reading about these results, I wondered whether the researchers considered including online social interaction. With an increasing number of people experiencing much of their social interaction online, it would be interesting to see if it was effective in staving off cognitive decline or if it had less effect or no effect compared with real life social interaction.