Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What makes groups of people smart?

Woolley and collaborators have studied people working in small groups, investigating why some groups appear to be smarter than others. A given group's performance on any one task did in fact predict its performance on the others, suggesting that groups have a consistent "collective intelligence." Surprisingly, the average intelligence of the individuals in the group was not the best predictor of a group's performance. The degree to which group members were attuned to social cues and their willingness to take turns speaking were more important, as was the proportion of women in the group. Here is their abstract:
Psychologists have repeatedly shown that a single statistical factor—often called "general intelligence"—emerges from the correlations among people's performance on a wide variety of cognitive tasks. But no one has systematically examined whether a similar kind of "collective intelligence" exists for groups of people. In two studies with 699 individuals, working in groups of two to five, we find converging evidence of a general collective intelligence factor that explains a group's performance on a wide variety of tasks. This "c factor" is not strongly correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members but is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females in the group.
A commentary by Greg Miller notes the actual tasks used to evaluate group intelligence:
Teams worked on a variety of tasks, including brainstorming to come up with possible uses for a brick and working collaboratively on problems from a test of general intelligence called Raven's Advanced Progressive Matrices. These problems involve evaluating several shapes arranged in a grid and identifying the missing item that would complete the pattern. The groups also worked on more real-world scenarios, such as planning a shopping trip for a group of people who shared a car. The researchers scored these tests according to predetermined rules that considered several factors (awarding points when shoppers got to buy items on their list, for example). Each participant also took an abbreviated version of the Raven's test as a measure of individual intelligence.


  1. This reminds me of a study which you highlighted a while back that demonstrated two heads were better than one at prediction. And more, it was enough for one person to just to imagine another point of view to garner measurable effect.

    Do you recall the name of that post?

  2. I think you be referring to:

  3. Anonymous8:53 AM

    This is really interesting and could be modelled in classrooms / have pedagogical applications.