This article is part of the Research Topic Towards a neuroscience of social interaction

Perspective ARTICLE

Front. Hum. Neurosci., 09 April 2012 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00075

On-line social interactions and executive functions

  • 1 Adaptive Social Cognition Lab, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
  • 2 Department of Psychology, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA

A successful social interaction often requires on-line and active construction of an ever-changing mental-model of another person’s beliefs, expectations, emotions, and desires. It also requires the ability to maintain focus, problem-solve, and flexibly pursue goals in a distraction-rich environment, as well as the ability to take-turns and inhibit inappropriate behaviors. Many of these tasks rely on executive functions (EF) – working memory, attention/cognitive control, and inhibition. Executive functioning has long been viewed as relatively static. However, starting with recent reports of successful cognitive interventions, this view is changing and now EFs are seen as much more open to both short- and long-term “training,” “warm-up,” and “exhaustion” effects. Some of the most intriguing evidence suggests that engaging in social interaction enhances performance on standard EF tests. Interestingly, the latest research indicates these EF benefits are selectively conferred by certain on-line, dynamic social interactions, which require participants to mentally engage with another person and actively construct a model of their mind. We review this literature and highlight its connection with evolutionary and cultural theories emphasizing links between intelligence and sociality.

Keywords: socializing, executive function, on-line social cognition, mental fitness

Citation: Ybarra O and Winkielman P (2012) On-line social interactions and executive functions. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 6:75. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00075

Received: 29 December 2011; Accepted: 17 March 2012;
Published online: 09 April 2012.

Edited by:

Chris Frith, Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London, UK

Reviewed by:

Rebecca Elliott, University of Manchester, UK
Ian Apperly, University of Birmingham, UK

Copyright: © 2012 Ybarra and Winkielman. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial License, which permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited.

*Correspondence: OscarYbarra, Adaptive Social Cognition Lab, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, 530 Church Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA. e-mail:

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