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Groups with Good Social Skills Outperform the Merely Smart

Groups of two to five members who interacted with each other best outperformed groups whose individual members had higher intelligence scores. Karen Hopkin reports

If Alice is smart, and Bob’s even smarter, working together they would A) be twice as smart, B) be half as smart or C) form a task force and get nothing done. According to new research, the answer is none of the above. It would actually depend on how well they get along.

What makes a group good at what it does? A team of scientists put their collective heads together and divided volunteers into groups of two to five. And they asked these groups to perform a variety of tasks, from brainstorming answers to questions like “What can you do with a brick?” to team typing blocks of complicated text.

What the researchers found is that the intelligence of individual group members was not a good predictor of how well the group as a whole performed. The teams that did best rated high in social sensitivity: their members interacted well, took turns speaking and included more females than groups that did poorly. The study is in the journal Science. [Anita Woolley et al., citation to come.]

So if you’re looking for a recipe for group smart, don’t automatically reach for the biggest brains. Try adding some heart. And at least one person who knows what to do with a brick.

—Karen Hopkin

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast]

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