Originally published in Science Express on 30 September 2010
Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups
Psychologists have repeatedly shown that a single statistical factor—often called "general intelligence"—emerges from the correlations among people’s performance on a wide variety of cognitive tasks. But no one has systematically examined whether a similar kind of "collective intelligence" exists for groups of people. In two studies with 699 people, working in groups of two to five, we find converging evidence of a general collective intelligence factor that explains a group’s performance on a wide variety of tasks. This "c factor" is not strongly correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members but is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females in the group.
What makes some groups perform better than others?
A new study published in Science found that three factors were significantly correlated with a group’s collective intelligence — in other words, its ability to perform a variety of tasks collectively, from solving puzzles to negotiating.
The three factors are: the average social sensitivity of the members of the group, the extent to which the group’s conversations weren’t dominated by a few members, and the percentage of women in the group. (The women in the study tended to score higher on social sensitivity than the men.) In other words, groups perform better on tasks if the members have strong social skills, if there are some women in the group, and if the conversation reflects more group members’ ideas. The groups studied were small teams with two to five members.Interestingly, the researchers found that collective intelligence wasn’t strongly correlated with the average intelligence of the individuals in the group — or with the intelligence of the smartest person in the group. They also found, as they wrote in Science, ”that many of the factors one might have expected to predict group performance — such as group cohesion, motivation, and satisfaction — did not.”