Do Groups Make Some of Us Less Intelligent?

Posted by Lindsay Starke on Friday, January 27, 2012 at 9:44AM

Do settings like being on a jury, in a meeting, or at a cocktail party make you feel dense? They might also make you act dense, as new research suggests that small-group settings may alter the expression of IQ in certain susceptible people. Signals about social status that occur in groups may make some individuals, particularly women, less likely to perform well on cognitive tests than those with a similar IQ.

"We started with individuals who were matched for their IQ," said [study director Read] 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."

Social dynamics are incredibly important among primates, and humans are no exception. Unfortunately, social signals have as much power to stifle as they do to empower and reassure. Though we might like to think we are rational beings doing our best and being our brightest in every instance, sometimes our brain decides how to behave for us.

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