Group settings hurt expressions of intelligence, especially in women

March, 2012

Comparing performance on an IQ test when it is given under normal conditions and when it is given in a group situation reveals that IQ drops in a group setting, and for some (mostly women) it drops dramatically.

This is another demonstration of stereotype threat, which is also a nice demonstration of the contextual nature of intelligence. The study involved 70 volunteers (average age 25; range 18-49), who were put in groups of 5. Participants were given a baseline IQ test, on which they were given no feedback. The group then participated in a group IQ test, in which 92 multi-choice questions were presented on a monitor (both individual and group tests were taken from Cattell’s culture fair intelligence test). Each question appeared to each person at the same time, for a pre-determined time. After each question, they were provided with feedback in the form of their own relative rank within the group, and the rank of one other group member. Ranking was based on performance on the last 10 questions. Two of each group had their brain activity monitored.

Here’s the remarkable thing. If you gather together individuals on the basis of similar baseline IQ, then you can watch their IQ diverge over the course of the group IQ task, with some dropping dramatically (e.g., 17 points from a mean IQ of 126). Moreover, even those little affected still dropped some (8 points from a mean IQ of 126).

Data from the 27 brain scans (one had to be omitted for technical reasons) suggest that everyone was initially hindered by the group setting, but ‘high performers’ (those who ended up scoring above the median) managed to largely recover, while ‘low performers’ (those who ended up scoring below the median) never did.

Personality tests carried out after the group task found no significant personality differences between high and low performers, but gender was a significant variable: 10/13 high performers were male, while 11/14 low performers were female (remember, there was no difference in baseline IQ — this is not a case of men being smarter!).

There were significant differences between the high and low performers in activity in the amygdala and the right lateral prefrontal cortex. Specifically, all participants had an initial increase in amygdala activation and diminished activity in the prefrontal cortex, but by the end of the task, the high-performing group showed decreased amygdala activation and increased prefrontal cortex activation, while the low performers didn’t change. This may reflect the high performers’ greater ability to reduce their anxiety. Activity in the nucleus accumbens was similar in both groups, and consistent with the idea that the students had expectations about the relative ranking they were about to receive.

It should be pointed out that the specific feedback given — the relative ranking — was not a factor. What’s important is that it was being given at all, and the high performers were those who became less anxious as time went on, regardless of their specific ranking.

There are three big lessons here. One is that social pressure significantly depresses talent (meetings make you stupid?), and this seems to be worse when individuals perceive themselves to have a lower social rank. The second is that our ability to regulate our emotions is important, and something we should put more energy into. And the third is that we’ve got to shake ourselves loose from the idea that IQ is something we can measure in isolation. Social context matters.

Recent posts at Mynd

A Finnish study involving moderately obese adult patients with mild obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) has found that even a modest weight loss (5%)...

Data from a survey of 20,000 people across the UK has found that people who cycle, walk, or take public transport to work had a lower risk of...

A Swedish study of some 4,000 60-year-olds has found that regular “non-exercise” physical activity such as gardening or DIY...

An 11-week trial involving 54 young, healthy men and women engaging in an endurance training program, has found that markers for the production of...

A mouse study has found that long-term physical activity increased levels of two proteins...

Data from 133,479 women in the California Teachers Study has found that those who reported doing moderate physical activity (such as brisk walking...

It’s well established that performing both cardio- and resistance training in the same session is decidedly better than doing them...

A year-long study involving 424 sedentary, mobility-limited seniors aged 70-89, has found that variants in a specific gene (the ACE I/D gene)...

Brain scans have revealed that those who regularly practiced yoga had larger brain volume in the somatosensory cortex...

A four-year study involving 1,502 healthy older adults (50+) has found that the frequency of negative interactions with family members (not...

A year-long study involving young adults has compared those who engaged in either tai chi or brisk walking or no exercise. Those who practiced tai...

Data from the very large U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), involving 23,168 people, has found a significant...

A study involving 12 rhesus macaques, of whom some were given access to alcohol, has found that those who drank moderately showed enhanced...

A mouse study suggests that resveratrol...

A study involving 74 older adults (70+), of whom 3 had mild dementia, 33 were cognitively normal and 38 had mild cognitive impairment...

A review of research from 1957 to the present has concluded that a whole diet approach, and specifically Mediterranean-style diets, has more...