News Stories

People in Groups Get Dumb

New research has found that small-group dynamics--such as jury deliberations, collective bargaining sessions, and cocktail parties --can alter the intelligence of some people, LOWERING their IQs. Could this be part of the reason for Congressional gridlock?

Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate how the brain processes information about social status in small groups and how that affects people's thinking abilities. Neuroscientist Read Montague says, "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."

Although the test subjects had similar baseline IQ scores--a mean of 126, compared to the national average of 100--they showed a wide range of test performance results, revealing that the IQ of some of them was affected by the signals they perceived about their status within the group.

Montague says, "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."

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Research like this could lead to ways for susceptible individuals to overcome the effect. A wide dissemination of such a discipline could empower people who might otherwise be "cut down" in the social milieu. Some of my conservative friends would probably think this dangerous, but I believe I would like to see it happen.

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