Attending regular workplace meetings is one of the more mundane aspects of work life. And though they may seem benign, the atmosphere created in such groups may inhibit some workers' ability to effectively think and communicate during them -- and it isn't just in their heads, a new study shows.
Meetings involving small groups, such as jury deliberations, collective bargaining sessions and cocktail parties, can reduce some people's ability to think -- making them appear less intelligent than they actually are, according to researchers at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.
"You may joke about how committee meetings make you feel brain dead," lead researcher Read Montague says in a statement accompanying the study results. "But our findings suggest that they may make you act brain dead as well."
Using an MRI, researchers measured the brain activity of study participants and how it is affected by interaction among members of a small group. The individuals, all of whom had similar IQs, were asked to perform tasks and the results of those activities were shared with the group.
The study revealed "dramatic drops in the ability of some study subjects to solve problems," says Montague, adding that sharing results of the tasks with the group had a "significant effect" in participants' ability to solve problems.
The findings, which appear in the journal, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, suggest that even subtle social signals within groups can affect individuals' ability to think. In other words, those who feel less intelligent than others in the group may indeed be less able to think and solve problems.
Neither age nor ethnicity appeared to have played a role in study results, but sex did. Significantly more women were found to be in the low-performing group than in the high-performing group, according to the study.
Researchers say the results show that further research is needed to understand the role meetings play and how the brain reacts to the competitive dynamics that occur within group settings.
"So much of our society is organized around small-group interactions," says study lead author Kenneth Kishida. "We need to remember that social dynamics affect not just educational and workplace environments, but also national and international policy-making bodies, such as the U.S. Congress and the United Nations."
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