Cooperative, Not Smart People Make a Group Succeed

In a recent study, researchers attempted to examine whether a “collective intelligence” or “c factor” existed in a group of people and studied the factors affecting it. For this study, c factor was defined as the general ability of the group to perform a variety of tasks. It was found that there was indeed a c factor that existed in the group. “This c factor is not strongly correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members but is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking and the proportion of females in the group.”

Intelligence in individuals has been measured by various scores and techniques over years of research, but there is no documentation of a c factor in groups of people working together. Today, a lot of work is done in groups and therefore it is important to understand the dynamics of a successful group. Researchers examined c factor in a group of people to establish its existence and the factors affecting it in populations. This study was conducted because “no one has systematically examined whether a similar kind of “collective intelligence” exists for groups of people.”

•    For study one, 40 three-participant groups were allotted group and individual tasks that ranged from simple tasks to complex ones taking more than five hours. At the beginning, intelligence was measured for all participants. At the end, a criterion task was given to all participants.
•    For study two, 152 groups with two to five members were given a wider variety of tests and an alternative measure of individual intelligence. Here, the criterion task was a complex architectural design task to be done alone and in groups.
•    The c factor was assessed for each group and features that affected c factor and group performance were examined using statistical analysis.


•    In this study, c factor was calculated for the first time, using parameters that measured the general ability to perform various tasks.
•    A significant c factor was noted in all groups. This c factor was dependent on group composition as well as the way the individual members interacted with each other.
•    C factor could be predicted effectively from the social sensitivity, equality of conversation and contribution among participants in group activities, and the proportion of female participants in the group.
* Factors not affecting c factor included group unity, motivation, satisfaction and average of maximum intelligence in the group.

Next Steps
Results from this study have raised other questions that may be answered with future research. One of the questions raised was if short-term c factor could improve or predict a sales or management team’s performance in the long run. Also, could better electronic collaboration tools could be devised to improve a group’s c factor.

Group or collective intelligence has never been defined precisely or quantified. This study analyzes the results of two shorter studies to link various factors that affect collective intelligence and proves that a c factor does exist in groups. This c factor can be used to predict success in groups much better than the individual intelligence of the members that make up the group. Again, social sensitivity, equal conversational participation and how many women in the group raised the c factor while group unity, motivation and satisfaction are not significantly linked to it. These factors together can help in development of models to improve collective and team performance with minimal efforts to yield maximum benefits.

For More Information:
Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups
Publication Journal: Science, September 2010
By Anita Williams Woolley; Christopher F. Chabris; Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, Union College, Schenectady, NY and MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, Cambridge, MA