Provocative new research discovers small-group dynamics can lower the expression of IQ in some susceptible people.

In the study, researchers determined IQ is significantly linked to social context.

During the investigation, scientists from the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute found that settings such as jury deliberations, collective bargaining sessions, and cocktail parties may reduce cognitive ability.

“You may joke about how committee meetings make you feel brain dead, but our findings suggest that they may make you act brain dead as well,” said Read Montague, Ph.D., director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and Computational Psychiatry Unit, who led the study.

Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate how the brain processes information about social status in small groups and how perceptions of that status affect expressions of cognitive capacity.

“We started with individuals who were matched for their IQ,” said Montague. “Yet when we placed them in small groups, ranked their performance on cognitive tasks against their peers, and broadcast those rankings to them, we saw dramatic drops in the ability of some study subjects to solve problems. The social feedback had a significant effect.”

“Our study highlights the unexpected and dramatic consequences even subtle social signals in group settings may have on individual cognitive functioning,” said lead author Kenneth Kishida, Ph.D. “And, through neuroimaging, we were able to document the very strong neural responses that those social cues can elicit.”

In the study, researchers administered a standard test to establish baseline IQ among students recruited from two universities.

Although the test subjects had similar baseline IQ scores — a mean of 126, compared to the national average of 100 — some individuals’ IQ was reduced or affected by their status within a small group.

Researchers wanted to know how the brain changes when IQ temporarily drops.

The subjects were divided into two groups based on the results of their final rank — the high performers, who scored above the median, and the low performers, who scored at or below the median. Two of every group of five subjects had their brains scanned using fMRI while they participated in the task.

“We don’t know how much these effects are present in real-world settings,” Kishida said.

Kishida and his team believes that given the potentially harmful effects of social-status assignments future research should be devoted to what, exactly, society is selecting for in competitive learning and workplace environments.

“This study tells us the idea that IQ is something we can reliably measure in isolation without considering how it interacts with social context is essentially flawed,” said coauthor Steven Quartz, Ph.D. “Furthermore, this suggests that the idea of a division between social and cognitive processing in the brain is really pretty artificial. The two deeply interact with each other.”

“So much of our society is organized around small-group interactions,” said Kishida. “Understanding how our brains respond to dynamic social interactions is an important area of future research. 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.”

Source: Virginia Tech

Men working in a group photo by shutterstock.