Group Intelligence: Testosterone Disrupts Collaboration revamp_odeqd23 June 17, 2012

Group Intelligence: Testosterone Disrupts Collaboration

A few months ago I wrote about some interesting findings from MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence. Looking into what supports group intelligence, the researchers found that individual intelligence of group members did not impact group intelligence as much as having more women on the team. (Want to increase the collective intelligence on your team? Invite more women!)

Anita Wooley and Thomas Malone were cautious to point out that this correlation has less to do with gender as such as with some kind of social sensitivity that is more likely to be found among women. That’s where another study published by the British Royal Society comes in: Its finding, in blunt terms, shows that testosterone makes women more egoistical. Researchers of the University College London asked women to take testosterone (or a placebo) and assessed their collaborative behaviors. The researchers found that women who received testosterone tended to insist on their opinion and showed less cooperative behaviors.

“Testosterone causally disrupted collaborative decision-making in a perceptual decision task, markedly reducing performance benefit individuals accrued from collaboration… This effect emerged because testosterone engendered more egocentric choices, manifest in an overweighting of one’s own relative to others’ judgements during joint decision-making.” (“Testosterone disrupts human collaboration by increasing egocentric choices“)

These findings aren’t a verdict on frequently observed gender patterns. Biological factors influence but don’t determine social behaviors. We have a choice – whether it is to collaborate with non-collaborators or to curb competitive group behaviors that impair group intelligence.

We are reminded of the job at hand to make a positive difference on the team’s ability to perform better than its members. Here are two concrete, actionable conclusions for your team:

  • Distribute “airtime” equally – i.e. make sure no one dominates the discussion. (That’s, by the way, the second top factor for increased group intelligence Malone and Wooley found.)
  • Cultivate social attunement – i.e. put yourself repeatedly into the shoes of your team members. Being emotionally connected mitigates egoistical decision-making and thus increases collective intelligence and team performance.

Collaboration, it turns out, is as much a predisposition as it is a habit of excellence.