Study: crowds have intelligence, which can be measured

Researchers find groups have intelligence, but it has little to do with the IQ of individual members.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

A new study by researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University, MIT, and Union College concludes that teams or groups have a collective form of intelligence, and this can be measured.

The intelligence has little to do with the IQs of individual group members, but arises out of the interactions between the members. 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. "Having a bunch of smart people in a group doesn't necessarily make the group smart," says MIT's Thomas S. Malone.

The researchers measured the intelligence of groups they studied through a series of tests, puzzles, games, moral judgments and brainstorming exercises. Some teams performed better than others. This enabled the researchers to calculate intelligence scores for each group -- which served as predictors of how well they will do on more sophisticated activities. "We found that there is a general effectiveness, a group collective intelligence, which predicts a group's performance in many situations," says Malone.

What makes a group smarter, then? Groups with equal levels of participation, whose members had higher levels of "social sensitivity," were more collectively intelligent, the study finds. Interestingly, groups with more women tended to demonstrate higher intelligence, the study also finds.

So what kind of applications could this have in the real world of business? Teams could be screened to determine if they have the right composition to tackle important tasks. "Imagine if you could give a one-hour test to a top management team or a product development team that would allow you to predict how flexibly that group of people would respond to a wide range of problems that might arise," says Malone. "That would be a pretty interesting application. We also think it's possible to improve the intelligence of a group by changing the members of a group, teaching them better ways of interacting or giving them better electronic collaboration tools."

I recall hearing a talk by MIT's Peter Senge a few years back, in which he looked closely at the dynamics of winning sports teams. Their success came out of a common epiphany, based on a shared sense of mission and vision. This surely comes out of the equal participation and social sensitivity that makes for a more intelligent group.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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