Social activities are what makes humans different from other animals.

Human beings are, by nature, social creatures. So you would think that the more we get together, talk to one another, share ideas and knowledge, the smarter we’d get. Not so according to research, which suggests that some social activities are actually bad for our intelligence and mental health.

So what social activities should we be aware of?

  1. Getting together in small groups

We all love to meet up with friends and family, but did you know that you could leave your catch-up a little less intelligent? One study showed that taking part in small, social groups can lower the IQ of certain people. This can include cocktail parties, committee meetings, and even jury deliberations.

“You may joke about how committee meetings make you feel brain dead, but our findings suggest that they may make you act brain dead as well,” said lead author of the study – Read Montague, Ph.D.

The study started with individuals with the same IQ’s and then placed them into small groups. When they were in the small groups, their performance on cognitive tasks was ranked against their peers and they were told about their results. There was a dramatic drop in their ability to solve problems which indicated that social feedback had a negative effect on IQ’s.

The study showed that some of the individual’s IQ’s were affected by their social status within the small group.

  1. TV Reality Shows

Some people love them, others hate them, and for those who hate them, there’s now a good reason. One study made a fake film which followed 24 hours in the life of a football hooligan (not someone renowned for their intelligence). The film was shown to participants who were then asked to take a general knowledge test. Participants who had watched the film beforehand scored less than those who had not.

The study suggests that what we immediately watch has a bearing on our intelligence, in other words – media priming. Media priming is the premise that what we see, listen and watch can influence our behaviour.

As the saying ‘You are what you eat’ goes, so apparently is what you watch.

  1. Multi-tasking with multimedia

Are you the type of person that listens to a podcast whilst watching TV and has music playing on in the background on your iPod? These are, of course, all very 21st-century social activities. But research indicates that multi-tasking with all these devices can shrink the brain.

The study scanned people’s brains and used questionnaires about their use of multimedia. The results showed that those individuals who multi-tasked across a wider range of devices had less grey matter density in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). This is the area of the brain that is involved with cognitive functions and decision-making.

  1. Having a smartphone

Smartphones keep us connected to our friends, family, work colleagues and the world, and apparently, this lowers our intelligence. Using our smartphones is probably one of the most favoured social activities, with an estimated 2.1 billion users.

One study looked at the use of smartphones and a person’s concentration. A group of smartphone users were asked to complete a series of computer tests that required complete concentration. Half the group left their phones in another room. The other half were asked to mute their devices and place them face-down on their desks.

Results showed that those who left their phones in another room performed significantly better on the tests than those who had theirs on the desk. The findings would suggest that just the presence of a smartphone is enough to impair a person’s cognitive capacity and functioning.

Another study looked at a person’s self-reported dependence on their smartphone and how this affected their intelligence. As in the last test, participants were asked to complete a series of computer tests. Some left their phones in another room and others either had them on the desk, in their pocket or in a bag.

The users who declared that they were the most dependent on their smartphones had worse results than their less-dependent peers. However, this was only when their smartphones were on the desk or in their pocket or bag.

“It’s not that participants were distracted because they were getting notifications on their phones,” study author said. “The mere presence of their smartphone was enough to reduce their cognitive capacity.”

  1. Living in a city

One of the most common social activities is to live in a city, and the majority of us do. When you think of city dwellers do you imagine striped-shirted city traders or high-ranking bankers, legal experts or property-owners? All these types of people must have a modicum of intelligence surely?

Research has a different story, however. Living in a city is not only very stressful and bad for mental health, but it can lower intelligence too. The study required some participants to walk through a busy city and the others to walk through a park. Afterwards, tests were carried out that showed the city walkers had worse memory functions, poor attention skills and learning problems. And you don’t even have to live in a city, simply looking at pictures of a city can have the same outcome.

Another study has also found that paranoia and schizophrenia are more common in cities. It appears that our minds need nature in order to relax and recharge. And unnatural surroundings, unsurprisingly, have an adverse effect on us.

There are five social activities listed here that can lower our IQ. Can you think of any more? Let us know in the comments!


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