They say that if you want to understand another person’s point of view, you should walk a mile in their shoes. It turns out that taking this trip mentally also will take you a long ways towards enhancing your own mental ability.
New research out of the University of Michigan has demonstrated that certain types of conversation that require the participants to see things from their partner’s perspective can enhance performance on mental tasks involving working memory, self-monitoring and concentration. But as soon as those conversations turned adversarial and lost the requirement of putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, those benefits disappeared.
The research is a follow-up to a previous studied that showed social interactions can boost brain performance as much as playing brain games. This time, the researchers focused in on exactly which types of interactions provide the benefit. The study led by Michigan Institute for Social Research Oscar Ybarra was published recently in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Ybarra took 192 undergraduate students and had them enter 10 minute conversations meant only for the participants to get to know each other. Subsequently, their performance on common cognitive tasks involving executive functions was increased. And once the conversation took a competitive edge, that benefit was lost, unless an element specifically meant to make participants take the other person’s perspective was included.
Though the tests showed no improvements in general knowledge or processing speed, the results do have some real-life implications. For example, the next time you have to take a big test or give a big presentation, try talking to a friend or colleague for several minutes beforehand.
But stay away from your significant others.