Being in a group can make some people lose around 15 percent of their IQ, research finds.
People who tried to solve problems in a group behaved as though they were significantly less smart than their IQ scores suggested.
The drop comes about because of subtle social signals sent between people about their place in the hierarchy.
In other words, some people start to feel inferior in a group and this affects their ability to think clearly.
Professor Read Montague, who led the research, explained how it worked:
“We started with individuals who were matched for their IQ.
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.”
In the real world, social signals can be sent in more subtle ways than announcing everyone’s performance.
It could be a social hierarchy known to everyone, how people speak or even their gender.
Women are particularly vulnerable to an IQ drop from being in a group, the researchers found.
Dr Kenneth Kishida, the study’s first author, said:
“Our study highlights the unexpected and dramatic consequences even subtle social signals in group settings may have on individual cognitive functioning.
And, through neuroimaging, we were able to document the very strong neural responses that those social cues can elicit.”
Professor Montague concluded:
“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.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (Kishida et al., 2012).