Small groups can stifle individual intelligence

Henry Fonda’s character in the classic movie ’12 Angry Men’ sways a jury with his quiet, intelligent address. The moot question is whether he would have succeeded if he had allowed himself to be swayed by that jury’s social dynamics.

Research from the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute found that jury deliberations, collective bargaining sessions and cocktail parties — small-group dynamics — can alter or stifle 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 Computational Psychiatry Unit at Virginia Institute, who led the study, the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B reports.

“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.”

Scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate how the brain processes information about social status in small groups and how perceptions of that status affect expressions of cognitive capacity, according to a Virginia Carilion statement.

“Our study highlights the unexpected and dramatic consequences even subtle social signals in group settings may have on individual cognitive functioning,” said co-author Kenneth Kishida. “And, through neuro-imaging, we were able to document the very strong neural responses that those social cues can elicit.”

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The researchers recruited subjects from two universities and administered a standard test to establish baseline IQ. The results were not viewed until after a series of ranked group IQ tasks, during which test takers, in groups of five, received information about how their performances compared to those of the other group members.

Researchers wanted to know what was happening in the brain during the observed changes in IQ expression.

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