The rapid-fire back and forth of a witty repartee is an exhilarating thing. When the conversation is ping-ponging between you and someone else—be it on a date, or in a business meeting, or at happy hour—chances are you’ll find yourself drawn to that person. And it’s the speed that’s the key, according to a new study in Psychological Science.
“Mental speed allows people to judge situational demands rapidly, consider a wide repertoire of responses within a socially appropriate response window, mask inappropriate initial reactions by rapidly presenting a non-dominant response, and make time-sensitive humorous associations,” write the study authors, who hail from the University of Queensland and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
The researchers recruited groups of friends from a college campus and had them rate one another on charisma and social skills. Individuals also took an intelligence assessment and a ton of personality tests. To assess mental speed, each person answered “30 common-knowledge questions” like “name a precious gem” as fast as they could (Diamond! Nailed it), and took two other tests—one in which they identified a dot’s position on a computer screen, and one in which they classified pairs of patterns as the same or different.
Those with high mental speed also tended to be the people who had been rated as more charismatic by their friends, an effect that was “independent of IQ, general knowledge, and the various personality measures.” In other words, it was speed, not smarts, that carried the day. “It remains a question for future research exactly how mental speed facilitates charismatic behavior, but access to a wider repertoire of social responses within an appropriate response window would seem to be a likely candidate,” the study reads.
Interestingly, mental speed did not necessarily mean that people had high social skills. Just a lot of charisma. When you stand too close to the train on the subway platform, the rush of air as it whips past can be breathtaking—much in the same way, a person can dazzle with speed, regardless of substance.
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