For working parents, opportunities for regular social interaction can be scarce after work and family commitments are met. But while you might feel that you simply don't have time to chat, research suggests that a friendly daily conversation is not only good for your mental health, it can even make you smarter.
A daily chat of around ten minutes or so could be the key to enhancing our problem-solving abilities and a key component of mental activity called "executive function", according to a study entitled 'Friends (and Sometimes Enemies) With Cognitive Benefits: What Types of Social Interactions Boost Executive Functioning?'.
Executive function refers to cognitive processes such as working memory, self-monitoring and the ability to suppress external and internal distractions all of which are essential when you're trying to feed the kids breakfast, while finishing that sales report or trying to remember where you left your car keys.
"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," said psychologist and lead author Oscar Ybarra.
"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."
Time for a tea break, anyone?
Perhaps instead of rushing from A to B without stopping to give anyone the time of day, it might be more beneficial to slow down and take a minute to ask your colleague about his or her day.
But be warned not all chats provide the same benefits.
"Our findings suggest important differences between kinds of social interactions, as not all of them result in cognitive boosts," Ybarra said. "Specifically, holding a competitive goal did not produce cognitive benefits."
The study, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, also suggested that less sympathetic, more competitive interactions were likely to "induce withdrawal and desire to avoid characterisation", so save the "my-child-is-more-advanced-than-your-child" conversation for another time.
Ybarra's findings help us to remember that taking time out not working overtime can often be the key to optimal intellectual performance, not to mention work-life balance.
Next time you're stressed, consider dumping the guilt, ditching the overtime and grabbing a quick coffee with a friend.
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