Smart social networks: How networking can boost intelligence

By Deanna Cioppa
The Brief
A study shows that people who engage in social interaction with others increase their own cognitive skills. It’s all about perspective-taking, so for maximum results, build as diverse a network as you can.

We’ve already made the case for networking as a way to increase employment opportunities and referral business and to boost innovation. For those of you not satisfied, here’s further evidence that going social is in your best interest: A study out of University of Michigan a few years ago demonstrated that social interaction, i.e. conversation, strengthens the brain just as well as puzzles or other cognitive games do. That’s right—build your relationship capital and you’ll get smarter.

In this study, participants were divided into three subgroups. One subgroup was then divided into pairs and each person was told to get to know the other person in his/her pair by asking questions. Individuals in the second group were given brain-stimulating games to play alone for ten minutes. And a control group was given no instruction. All three groups took cognitive tests after their activities, and the conversation and games groups performed at the same level, which was higher than the control group. According to researchers, taking the perspective of others, as one does in a quality conversation, exercises the brain like a puzzle would.

A recent Harvard Business Review post cites this study as a selling point for “open innovation,” that is, when organizations bring in outsiders to help solve their toughest problems. It’s a great point. Networking outside one’s organization and industry, as we’ve said before, is a critical first step in boosting cross-sector collaboration, which in turn can expedite problem-solving within organizations. But perhaps it’s not merely the act of building contacts that helps solve problems across industries. Perhaps taking on the perspective of someone whose experience and expertise differ greatly from yours (say an NPO project manager to your IT director) boosts intelligence in a way that creates solutions even more quickly.

Think about that the next time you’re deciding whether or not to attend a networking event, brainiac.

Deanna Cioppa is a freelance writer who has written for AARP, ESPN The Magazine and Fodor’s, and is a frequent contributor to this blog.
RelSci helps create competitive advantage for organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers. 

1 thought on “Smart social networks: How networking can boost intelligence”

  1. How smart is your Social Networking?
    I am frequently asked by people what I think of social networking at large (having such a high profile on the World Wide Web), how on earth do I have the time to get involved given the incredible pressures I face on a daily basis running Blackhawk Partners and what do I really have to say that would be of interest to strangers?
    Thank you,

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