It is well established that brain games and puzzles act as calisthenics for our brains, expanding their capacity and improving their overall health. More surprising are the findings of a study led by researchers at the University of Michigan. It shows that just as effective in building cognitive strength are social interactions.
The design of the study was simple – the researchers took one group of participants, randomly paired people up, and instructed them to get to know each other by asking probing questions. After ten minutes of such interaction, the participants were given a battery of cognitive tests. In parallel, participants in a second group were given challenging brain-game activities to perform, also for ten minutes, and followed by the same cognitive tests. A third group served as the control and took the tests with no prelude. The result? The social interaction group outperformed the control group on the cognitive tests, and did not differ from the brain games group. For the researchers, this suggests that the active perspective-taking one does in conversation involves mental gymnastics as demanding as any brain-teaser.