Chat! It’s good for your health

November 8, 2010

University of Michigan psychologist Oscar Ybarra brought me welcome news this week.  As the lead author of a study reported in the journal Social Psychological and Personality ScienceYbarra explains that brief (10 minute) social conversations like those you would use to make friends boosts our brain’s executive functions.  Improvements in working memory, self-monitoring, and the ability to suppress external and internal distractions resulted from relaxed conversation.

International teachers visiting in Montana

In a study of 192 undergraduates, Ybarra showed that a daily chat enhances both our problem solving and social intelligence capabilities. As a computer programmer who fresh out of college would quickly finish programs so I could catch up with my colleagues, I appreciate some belated justification for my actions. Now as a consultant and instructor focused on getting people to work better together, this study lends credence to my consistent call to bring both your head and your heart to work.

In previous research, Ybarra found that social interaction provides a short-term boost to executive function that’s comparable to playing brain games, such as solving crossword puzzles. “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 says.

“Taken together with earlier research, these findings highlight the connection between social intelligence and general intelligence,” Ybarra adds. “This fits with evolutionary perspectives that examine social pressures on the emergence of intelligence, and research showing a neural overlap between social-cognitive and executive brain functions.”

Getting to know and empathize with your peers and employees has just become even more worth your time.

Deidre Combs

Deidre Combs is the author of three books on cross-cultural approaches to resolving conflict and overcoming challenges:  The Way of ConflictWorst Enemy, Best Teacher  and Thriving Through Tough Times. The books integrate perennial wisdom from the world’s lasting cultural traditions with systems theory and brain research.

Dr. Combs is a management consultant, executive coach, mediator and core instructor in Montana State University’s Leadership Fellows Certificate Program and Columbia University’s Teacher’s College Global Competence Certificate Program. Since 2007, she has also taught intensive leadership training to State Department-selected students, teachers and professional leaders from throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Latin America and Pakistan’s FATA region.

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