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Bruno Dubuc, Patrick Robert, Denis Paquet, and Al Daigen

Tuesday, 15 April 2014
The Collective Intelligence of Human Groups

In psychology, the concept of general intelligence in individuals and the use of IQ tests to measure it are controversial topics, to say the least. One frequently cited piece of evidence for the existence of such intelligence is that this single variable predicts from one-third to one-half of individuals’ scores on a variety of distinct cognitive tasks.

In a study published in the journal Science in October 2010, psychologists from three U.S. universities reported that they had discovered a factor that they called collective intelligence and that is similar to general intelligence but occurs in groups rather than in individuals. To test for this factor, the researchers formed dozens of groups of 2 to 5 people each and had them work for several hours on various tasks, ranging from creative brainstorming about a moral dilemma to playing checkers against a computer.

In this study of collective intelligence, the researchers performed numerous statistical analyses. The most interesting finding that emerged from them, and that went beyond the debate about just what exactly collective intelligence might represent, was that this factor was not highly correlated with either the average intelligence of the groups’ members or with the intelligence of the group member who had scored the highest on the individual-intelligence test. In other words, a group composed of brilliant individuals will not automatically be the most brilliant group.

The psychologists did find some factors that let them predict whether a given group would be collectively intelligent. But to identify three, they had to look at factors associated with co-operation. The first such factor was the group’s overall social sensitivity—the members’ ability to perceive each other’s emotions. The second factor was equality in taking turns speaking during group decision-making. The third factor was the proportion of women in the group. This last finding is highly consistent with other data showing that women tend to be more socially sensitive than men and to take turns speaking more naturally than men do.

Thus a group’s internal dynamic—the way that its members work together—seems to be more important than the sum of its members’ individual abilities. This observation bears more than a passing resemblance to the theory of emergence—the idea that the cognitive capabilities of the group of neurons that constitute the human brain is greater than the sum of the capabilities of the individual neurons in that group.

i_lien New study finds small groups demonstrate distinctive ‘collective intelligence’ when facing difficult tasks
i_lien Evidence for a collective intelligence factor in the performance of human groups
a_his Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups

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