Collective Intelligence: Number of Women in Groups Linked to Effectiveness in Solving Difficult Problems

I must admit, I considered facetiously titling this “Women Are Collectivists, and Collectivism Works.”  From ScienceDaily:

Many social scientists have long contended that the ability of individuals to fare well on diverse cognitive tasks demonstrates the existence of a measurable level of intelligence in each person. In a study published Sept. 30, in the advance online issue of the journal Science, the researchers applied a similar principle to small teams of people. They discovered that groups featuring the right kind of internal dynamics perform well on a wide range of assignments, a finding with potential applications for businesses and other organizations.

“We set out to test the hypothesis that groups, like individuals, have a consistent ability to perform across different kinds of tasks,” says Anita Williams Woolley, the paper’s lead author and an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. “Our hypothesis was confirmed,” continues Thomas W. Malone, a co-author and Patrick J. McGovern Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “We found that there is a general effectiveness, a group collective intelligence, which predicts a group’s performance in many situations.”

That collective intelligence, the researchers believe, stems from how well the group works together. For instance, groups whose members had higher levels of “social sensitivity” were more collectively intelligent. “Social sensitivity has to do with how well group members perceive each other’s emotions,” says Christopher Chabris, a co-author and assistant professor of psychology at Union College in New York. “Also, in groups where one person dominated, the group was less collectively intelligent than in groups where the conversational turns were more evenly distributed,” adds Woolley. And teams containing more women demonstrated greater social sensitivity and in turn greater collective intelligence compared to teams containing fewer women.

To arrive at their conclusions, the researchers conducted studies at MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence and Carnegie Mellon, in which 699 people were placed in groups of two to five. The groups worked together on tasks that ranged from visual puzzles to negotiations, brainstorming, games and complex rule-based design assignments. The researchers concluded that a group’s collective intelligence accounted for about 40 percent of the variation in performance on this wide range of tasks.

Moreover, the researchers found that the performance of groups was not primarily due to the individual abilities of the group’s members. For instance, the average and maximum intelligence of individual group members did not significantly predict the performance of their groups overall.

Only when analyzing the data did the co-authors suspect that the number of women in a group had significant predictive power. “We didn’t design this study to focus on the gender effect,” Malone says. “That was a surprise to us.” However, further analysis revealed that the effect seemed to be explained by the higher social sensitivity exhibited by females, on average. “So having group members with higher social sensitivity is better regardless of whether they are male or female,” Woolley explains.

Read more here.

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  • Liam_McGonagle

    Really? That’s a shock! I’d always been taught that problem solving was best acheived through endless parroting of stale formulae!

    http://pledge.gop.gov/

    “All problems are nails to the man whose only tool is a hammer.”

    • Andrew

      I’m sure the results are quite different if one of the women involved is Sarah Palin.

  • Anonymous

    Really? That’s a shock! I’d always been taught that problem solving was best acheived through endless parroting of stale formulae!

    http://pledge.gop.gov/

    “All problems are nails to the man whose only tool is a hammer.”

  • Andrew

    I’m sure the results are quite different if one of the women involved is Sarah Palin.