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Business Meetings Are Making You Dumb

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New research suggests that social pressures in small group activities can diminish intelligence and problem-solving abilities in participants.
New research suggests that social pressures in small group activities can diminish intelligence and problem-solving abilities in participants.

Group settings, such as business meetings, can actually diminish intelligence, according to a new study from Virginia Tech's Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute.

Research suggests that small-group dynamics such as jury deliberations, meetings and even cocktail parties can have a negative intellectual effect on participants.

"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," Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and the Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, said in a statement.

Scientists used IQ tests to assess individuals' intelligence before and during group activity, while fMRI technology monitored brain function. They matched groups of individuals based on their IQ scores, then showed them their individual performance on cognitive tasks as compared to their peers. "We saw dramatic drops in the ability of some study subjects to solve problems. The social feedback had a significant effect," Montague said.

The study suggests that social cues, such as being in the presence of someone you think is smarter than you, can trigger strong neural responses that essentially debilitate cognitive, problem-solving abilities.

"Given the potentially harmful effects of social-status assignments and the correlation with specific neural signals, future research should be devoted to what, exactly, society is selecting for in competitive learning and workplace environments," lead study author Kenneth Kishida said in a statement. "By placing an emphasis on competition, for example, are we missing a large segment of the talent pool?"