Group “Intelligence” Linked to Social Skills – and Number of Women Members

Anita Wooley Williams

Anita Wooley Williams

A group’s “general collective intelligence factor” is related to social and communication skills, not to the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members, found Carnegie Mellon’s Anita Williams Woolley, Christopher F. Chabris of Union College, with MIT colleagues Alex (“Sandy”) Pentland, Nada Hashmi, and Thomas W. Malone.

Instead, group intelligence was most closely associated with:

Christopher Chabris

Christopher Chabris

The research team analyzed group productivity of more than 695 volunteers in teams of two to five members working on representative workplace tasks including:

  • Logical analysis,
  • Coordination,
  • Planning,
  • Brainstorming,
  • Moral-ethical reasoning.
Alexander Pentland

Alexander Pentland

Each team worked together to complete a series of short tasks, which were selected to represent the varied workplace deliverables and volunteers also completed an individual I.Q. test.
Teams with higher average I.Q.s performed similarly on collective intelligence tasks as teams with lower average I.Q.s.

Simon Baron-Cohen

Simon Baron-Cohen

In addition, each participant completed a measure of empathy based on accuracy of identifying emotional states based on images of people’s eyes with no other clues, developed by University of Cambridge’s Simon Baron-Cohen, Sally Wheelright, Jacqueline Hill, Yogini Raste, and Ian Plumb.

This instrument, Reading the Mind in the Eyes test, evaluates Theory of Mind skills and social reasoning, not just the ability to recognize facial expressions associated with emotions and mental states.

Sally Wheelright

Sally Wheelright

Ability to infer other team members’ concerns and emotional states, measured by Reading the Mind in the Eyes test, correlated with team effectiveness in solving workplace tasks, but not extraversion and reported motivation.

What elements enhance a group’s collective intelligence when working virtually?

David Engel

David Engel

Wooley’s team collaborated with MIT’s David Engel and Lisa X. Jing to assess the impact of interpersonal sensitivity and empathy among 68 in-person or online teams on collective intelligence task performance.

Characteristics of superior-performing “smart” teams, both online and face-to-face echoed previous results favoring social and communication skills:

  • Strong emotion-reading, empathy, and interpersonal sensitivity,
  • Communication volume,
  • Equal participation.
Reading the Mind in the Eyes

Reading the Mind in the Eyes

These teams demonstrated high collective emotional intelligence when they also excelled in inferring others’ feelings and preferences even if conveyed without visual, auditory, or non-verbal cues when interacting online.

Teams may increase task performance when members have well-developed “Emotional Intelligence,” social insight, and communication skills rather than the highest measured IQ.

  • How do you enhance a work group’s collective intelligence in performance tasks?

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7 thoughts on “Group “Intelligence” Linked to Social Skills – and Number of Women Members

  1. fwade

    Awesome work! Even by your high standards.

    I’ll be reading it slowly… Enjoying your work.

    Thanks for what you do.

    Sent from my android device.

  2. kathrynwelds Post author

    Graeme Smith wrote:
    G’Day Kathryn, I guess that’s hardly surprising.

    Kathryn Welds responded:
    Thanks for your comment, Graeme.
    It’s heartening to know that this finding seems to make sense. As we track some of the U.S. Presidential candidates’ utterances, you may be among the Enlightened Minority.
    Thanks for responding!

  3. kathrynwelds Post author

    Rachel of TalentRidge, UK wrote:
    An intriguing article, thank you for sharing it

    Kathryn Welds replied:
    Thanks for commenting, Rachel. Elsewhere, Graeme Smith thought that the findings are hardly surprising, so good to know that they piqued your interest.

  4. kathrynwelds Post author

    Michel Peruch wrote:
    Another great article very well documented. I have taken the test Reading the Mind in the eyes a few years ago and this is far from being an easy one, but it’s fun to do and, as a result, now, I pay a lot more attention to all non verbal signs and especially the eys of the people I interact with. I strongly encourage everyone to take the test. Thanks Kathryn.

    Kathryn Welds replied:
    Thanks very much, Michel, for your First Person Account of Reading the Mind in the Eyes test. As a curiosity, the test was developed by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s distinguished cousin, Simon Baron Cohen – no joke.

  5. kathrynwelds Post author

    Michel Peruch responded
    I did that test again here and I would recommend everyone to do it! So fun and yes, challenging too..
    The Baron-Cohen family seems to have many talent… and very diverse.
    I had the chance to be for the first time in SFO 2 months ago and I now may say you’re lucky to live in a wonderful city. I just loved being there… and I will return! Keep well.

    Kathryn Welds wrote:
    We must connect in person next time your travels bring you to SFO, Michel!

  6. kathrynwelds Post author

    Rachel continued:

    Thanks for the link Michel, I have just used it to do the test myself for the first time and as you say it is fun, it also highlights how much we gain from very subtle non verbal signals .. going to share this with others thanks again

    Kathryn Welds responded:
    Thanks, Rachel, for sharing your experience and recommendation of Reading the Mind in the Eyes assessment @
    This builds on Paul Edman’s research on detecting emotion from rapidly-displayed “micro-expressions” –


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