Women for the win in collective intelligence

I’m reading about collective intelligence and I come across this passage as a researcher discusses their recent findings:

“Finally, and most surprisingly to us, we found that the collective intelligence of the group was significantly correlated with the percentage of women in the group. More women were correlated with a more intelligent group. Interestingly, this last result is not just a diversity result. It’s not just saying that you need groups with some men and some women. It looks like that it’s a more or less linear trend. That is, more women are better all the way up to all women.”

The researcher goes on to explain that this is largely due to the level of social perceptiveness in the study group and that by and large women have a higher social perceptiveness and so the more women in the group, the higher the social perceptiveness which leads to higher collective intelligence – as determined by their study parameters.

So let’s talk about this.

1. Awesome…but we knew that, right ladies?

2. “most surprisingly to us…” why is it so surprising? I’m a feminist in the sense that I am female, a la Caitlin Moran and “How to be a Woman” so I’m not going to go all “men are dumb and women are smart” or anything, but I did find this interesting. We all have our strengths, we all have our not-so-strengths (that female brilliance shining here….).

3. Social perceptiveness is important. We’re social creatures. We live in a society, not in isolation (well most of us anyway). More and more the social aspects of “things” are being emphasized such as in education and learning. While technology can be scolded for isolating us from each other as we sit glued to our phones during social outings with friends, texting rather than talking….it shouldn’t be forgotten that those text messages are communication and communication is social.

4. I wasn’t going to get political here, but as I wrote this, news came that a pay equity bill was blocked in the Senate that would have created some rules and laws that would bring transparency to payday and require that women receive equal pay, among other things. Beyond the fact that it’s just sad that a bill like that has to be proposed in the first place, let’s just think about the findings of this collective intelligence study….let’s just look at the number of women in government (growing but still low, obviously) and draw your own conclusions. This is not an invitation to gender bash, it’s just a point of discussion, one among many.

The researcher explains how they define intelligence – basically when someone can do a lot of mental things well most of the time. That’s broad but I get it. Think about how most women you know operate. We do A LOT of things, most of them requiring mental capacity, all at once all of the time. When I work at home, I change a diaper while answering email. I conduct a conference call while answering emails and planning dinner. I write reports while creating surveys and put out fires (figuratively, not often literally) and fold laundry. Not all of these tasks require the same mental capacity, but I am willing to bet that the female mind, if we want to use a physical analogy, gets much more of a work out in a day than the average male mind. And if I were to make very broad generalizations about the genders, I’d say women are more social creatures and if social perceptiveness is important in collective intelligence – pair that with a healthy dose of multitasking (which has been shown to indicate good working memory capacity which in turn has been shown to be an indicator of overall intelligence) and I’d have to agree with the researcher – but I’d ask again….why is it so surprising? I’d be more surprised if it had turned out the other way around.


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