Study: More women translates to smarter groups

Females' higher 'social intelligence' correlates with better teamwork

Want your group to have better teamwork and creativity? Then add more women to the mix, Derek Thompson reports for The Atlantic.

A team of scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology reviewed a range of studies to examine what makes some groups smarter than others when presented with various responsibilities and tests.

They discovered that the crucial "c-factor", or "collective intelligence," depends largely on the social intelligence of the group, according to the researchers.

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In their original study, published in Science in 2010, the scientists divided 699 individuals into groups of two to five. While the c-factor did not correlate strongly with the average intelligence of members, it did correlate with "the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females in the group."

The most significant factor in making a smart group was social sensitivity, that is, being able to read non-verbal cues.

"Like reading, social sensitivity is a kind of literacy, and it turns out that women are naturally more fluent in the language of tone and faces," Thompson writes.

Females also scored higher on "Reading the Mind in the Eyes" (RME) tests, in which participants identify emotions from pictures of eyes, during a follow up study in PLOS in December. The same participants were then divided into groups tasked with brainstorming and completing activities like Sudoku. Teams with more women did best.

Personality traits such as empathy did not play a part, according to the scientists. "Mind-reading isn't a personality trait. It's a skill," writes Thompson.

However, the skill does not always translate to success. Certain tasks, such as a math problem, cannot be solved—no matter the emotional intelligence of the group—unless someone actually knows how to complete it.

But in situations that require collaboration, groups with better social sensitivity perform better overall.

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The studies reveal two important lessons, says Thompson. First, despite modern fears that the Internet has eroded interpersonal skills, emotionally sensitive individuals can still read feelings—whether face-to-face or via text message.

Second, the gender-wage gap will continue to close—and it may even invert by the next generation, Thompson argues. For example, women already earn a majority of bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, and Ph.Ds, positioning them for career success. Furthermore, the fastest-growing industries no longer rely on physical strength, and men's emotional literacy skills may put them at a disadvantage in collaborative positions (Thompson, The Atlantic, 1/18).

The takeaway: Women are better able to read non-verbal cues, which puts them at an advantage in the workplace.

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