Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News


Why social engagement can boost brain function: the case for “walking book clubs”

alYou may remember the answer of Dr. Art Kramer in Chapter 2 when asked about the top key lifestyle habits that help delay Alzheimer’s symptoms and improve overall brain health:   “Ideally, combine both physical and mental stimulation along with social interactions. Why not take a good walk with friends to discuss a book?”

This is why you will find below a few questions to help you delve deeper into the topics discussed in The SharpBrains Guide. We suggest that you discuss these questions with your friends, loved ones, the members of your book club, at a meeting of fellow professionals, etc.

Thinking about the questions by yourself would be a stimulating intellectual exercise but discussing the questions with a group of people would boost the power of this brain exercise. Indeed, recent findings suggest that social contact may help us improve our brain functions. For instance, in 2008, Ybarra and his colleagues randomly assigned participants (aged 18-21) to three groups: 1) a social group, in which the participants engaged in a discussion of a social issue for 10mn, 2) an intellectual activities group, in which the participants solved stimulating tasks (crossword puzzles and the likes) for 10mn, and 3) a control group, in which the participants watched a 10mn clip of Seinfeld. After they participated in the discussion or watched the clip or solved the puzzles, the cognitive functioning of all the participants was assessed. Two tasks were used (a speed of processing task and a working memory task).

Results of Ybarra’s study showed that people in the intellectual activities group did better in the cognitive tasks than people who merely watched a movie. This suggests that stimulating activities are good for your brain. The benefit from social interaction was as great as the benefit from intellectual activities! This is a very exciting result considering that participants engaged in discussion for only 10 minutes.

Why would social interaction boost brain function? Ybarra and colleagues offer the following reasoning. Social interaction involves many behaviors that require memory, attention and control.  These mental processes are also involved in many cognitive tasks.  Thus social interaction would act as a prime, it would “oil” these processes so that they are ready to be used when a cognitive task is to be solved. This is a tentative explanation that may require some refinement but the results are here: Social interaction seems to benefit the brain.

By writing this guide, we have done our best to contribute to your good brain health and cognitive fitness. Now it is your turn.

Keep learning by reading more articles in the Resources section, and also please consider joining our free monthly Brain Fitness eNewsletter

This new online resource is based on the content from the book The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness (May 2009, $19.95), by Alvaro Fernandez and Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg.

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