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Human intelligence diminishes in group tasks?

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From “Group settings can diminish expressions of intelligence, especially among women” (Eurekalert, January 22, 2012), we learn,

Research led by scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute found that small-group dynamics — such as jury deliberations, collective bargaining sessions, and cocktail parties — can alter the expression of IQ in some susceptible people. “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 Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, who led the study.

“We started with individuals who were matched for their IQ,” said Montague. “Yet when we placed them in small groups, ranked their performance on cognitive tasks against their peers, and broadcast those rankings to them, we saw dramatic drops in the ability of some study subjects to solve problems. The social feedback had a significant effect.”

“Our study highlights the unexpected and dramatic consequences even subtle social signals in group settings may have on individual cognitive functioning,” said lead author Kenneth Kishida, a research scientist with the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. “And, through neuroimaging, we were able to document the very strong neural responses that those social cues can elicit.”

In an interesting display of responsible management of research information, the researchers’ publicists describe the change as diminishing expressions of intelligence, not diminishing intelligence.

Anyone with experience of such meetings will be familiar with the dynamic: “Aw, just let the Big Noise decide. Why am I here? If I act stupid, no one will ask me to do anything.” So the group ends up with something few really wanted and no one owns.  (The Big Noise has since moved on.)


6. Neither age nor ethnicity showed a significant correlation with performance or brain responses. A significant pattern did emerge along gender lines, however. Although male and female participants had the same baseline IQ, significantly fewer women (3 of 13) were in the high-performing group and significantly more (10 of 13) fell into the low-performing group.

Like we said: Let the Big Noise decide, …

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allan at Brains on Purpose

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If, as has been suggested and seems to accord with reality, as well as the burden of scripture, the brain is a reducing valve for our survival in time, the above makes sense. People may even be using their intelligence most propitiously by gauging their usefulness in comparison with the others, and deciding to more or less 'goof out', take a back seat, defer to the probable, superior 'take' of others on the matter under discussion. A nice blend of wordly intelligence and wisdom. Axel

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