In a study led by Ruixue Zhaoyang, assistant research professor of the Center for Healthy Aging at Penn State, the researchers found that when adults between the ages of 70 and 90 reported more frequent, pleasant social interactions, they also had a better cognitive performance on that day and the following two.
Zhaoyang said. “The fact that we found that the cognitive benefits of having pleasant social interactions could manifest over such a short time period was a happy surprise and could be a promising area for future intervention studies.”
The researchers used data collected by smartphones over 16 days on 312 older adults for the study. The participants were prompted five times throughout the day to report how many social interactions they’d had, who they interacted with, and whether it was a positive or negative experience. Digital interactions like talking by phone or texting were counted as well as in-person ones.
In addition, participants completed three mobile cognitive tests after each check-in. One was designed to measure processing speed and attention, one measured spatial working memory, and the last measured intra-item feature memory binding.
The researchers found that when older adults interacted more frequently with people they were close to — especially their friends — they performed better on these cognitive tests than those who interacted less frequently with close partners.
Zhaoyang said that while the study suggests that a lack of socializing can have negative effects on cognition, it also shows an opportunity for future interventions.
Penn State. “Socializing may improve older adults’ cognitive function in daily life.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 September 2021. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/09/210909124349.htm>.