While social contact has been shown to have positive impacts on cognitive functioning in older adults overall, a recent study looked at how individuals’ personalities might play a role in the relationship between social activity and its cognitive benefits.
Earlier research has shown that greater social contact was positively associated with better episodic memory. Turning to the influence of personality, individuals with high extraversion showed a stronger relationship between social contact and better memory and executive function, such that “only those with relatively high levels of extraversion managed to cognitively benefit from social contact.” Further analysis showed that extraversion amplified the association between social contact and memory for unmarried participants more than for those who were married.
On the other hand, the analysis also showed that individuals with low extraversion did better on tests of executive functioning, regardless of their amount of social contact. This is in line with personality theory, which suggests that extroverts use their social environment to gain cognitive stimulation.
Interestingly, lower levels of agreeableness were associated with a stronger association between greater social contact and better memory. The authors suggest that this may be because those high in agreeableness place a priority on the pleasantness of interactions, avoiding interactions that may be more stimulating or argumentative.
On the other hand, higher neuroticism weakened the association between social contact and memory. The authors suggest that this may be because of the stress and/or stress management that social contact can cause individuals higher in neuroticism.
The impact of openness was more complex. Looked at without accounting for social contact, greater openness was associated with better episodic memory and executive function. However, when social contact was factored in, greater openness weakened the association between social contact and both memory and executive function. This could be because individuals high in openness derive their cognitive stimulation from many types of activities, whereas social contact is more significant for individuals with lower openness who may engage in fewer stimulating activities.
Segel-Karpas D and Lachman ME. Social contact and cognitive functioning: the role of personality. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B (2018); 73(6): 974–984.