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Collective Intelligence and Healthcare

If hospitals and other healthcare organizations comprise a number of very smart and intelligent individuals, shouldn’t the groups in which they participate in be more collectively intelligent as well?

Not really.

In fact, recent studies by researchers in the area of “collective intelligence” suggest that not only is individual intelligence not a predictor of group intelligence, but another factor may be much more critically important.

First, what is collective intelligence? It’s generally thought of as shared or group thinking, behavior and decision-making that occurs within a group environment. Think of it as the shared mental processes required to achieve a specific task or a variety of different tasks and a way in which to measure their general effectiveness. Researchers figured that it would be valuable to try to identify which characteristics within the group led to better outcomes.

To study collective intelligence, researchers created a variety of groups that ranged from two to five members who spent about five hours together in a laboratory working a series of tasks. The tasks included creative brainstorming problems, puzzles involving verbal or mathematical reasoning, negotiation tasks, and moral-reasoning problems.

In addition, each group was given a more complex “criterion task,” which required a combination of several of the different collaboration tasks measured by the other tasks. For example, in the first study, groups played checkers as a team against a computer opponent. Another study required groups to complete an architectural design.

What were the results?

As predicted by the researchers, the significant predictor of group performance on both of the criterion tasks was not the average individual intelligence of the group members. More precisely, it was found that the average and maximum intelligence of individual group members was correlated with collective intelligence, but only moderately so. Thus, “having a group of smart people is not enough, alone, to make a smart group.”

If individual intelligence is not the strongest predictor—what is?

It turns out a stronger predictor is social perceptiveness of group members. That is, people’s ability to judge others’ emotions ranked highest in terms of predicting whether or not a group would be more effective in completing its task. The higher the number of people in the group who were high in social perceptiveness, the higher their collective “intelligence.” Interestingly, researchers also found a correlation of performance and collective intelligence with the number of women in the group. They cautioned, however, that gender may not be as much a factor as the fact that women in general were more socially perceptive within the groups.

Collective Intelligence, Improvement and Diversity

Researchers found some other interesting aspects to group performance as well.

For example, in another study they found that highly collectively intelligent teams exhibited steady improvement in performance across the series of tests, suggesting teams got better at retaining information collectively and applying it to their assignments over time.

They also demonstrated that diversity plays an important role in performance as well. Based on their studies, the researcher suggested that groups whose members are too similar to each other lack the variety of perspectives and skills needed to perform well on a variety of tasks. But at the same time, “groups whose members are too different have difficulties communicating and coordinating effectively.” Thus, the researchers said that an intermediate level of cognitive diversity might be the best approach towards enhancing collective intelligence.

They also found that more collectively intelligent groups communicate more and participate more equally than other groups.

Despite these studies, several important questions remain.

For example, can the collective intelligence of groups be increased and improved? Can social perceptiveness be trained or is it an inherent trait that some people have and some don’t (or not as much). Also, could a group’s collective intelligence be increased with the use of better electronic collaboration tools?

Whatever the answers to these questions and others, one result is clear from these studies—group performance is not dependent on individual intelligence. Rather, it’s about how the group fits together, communicates and relates to one another that counts. Collective intelligence rules the day, not the intelligence of individuals.

Collective Intelligence and Group Performance,  Anita Williams Woolley, IshaniAggarwal, Thomas W. Malone, Current Directions in Psychological Science , Vol 24, Issue 6, pp. 420 – 424 First published date: December-10-2015 10.1177/0963721415599543