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Adding Women to a Group Makes It Smarter Because It Develops Better Social Sensitivity

An MIT study that seems to have found that while “there’s little correlation between a group’s collective intelligence and the IQs of its individual members… if a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises.”

Understandably, the idea that a few extra X chromosomes on their own could reliably improve collective intelligence where group satisfaction, group cohesion, group motivation, and even the intelligence of the individuals in the group could not caused a lot of people to very carefully inspect their methodology and question their finding. So the researchers involved, Anita Woolley, Thomas Malone, and Scott Berinato, went back to their data, replicated their findings twice, and clarified the real meaning of their conclusion.

It’s not that women are inherently smarter (remember, even higher individual intelligence didn’t have an effect on group intelligence), but that groups with women in them are more socially sensitive.

Woolley, Malone, and Berinato don’t meant that groups with women spent their time watching Sleepless in Seattle and An Affair to Remember back to back; they mean that the groups shared information, listened, and collaborated better, which led to the group being able to express and manifest the intelligence of its members more easily. According to The Glass Hammer, there’s already plenty of evidence that women are more socially sensitive than men:

The results around social sensitivity and women are not groundbreaking. Women have long been hailed as the more collaborative gender – and particularly in the postindustrial work environment, collaboration is seen as a asset, not a weakness.

As Alice H. Eagly, Northwestern University, and Linda L. Carli, Wellesly University, wrote in their 2003 paper, “The female leadership advantage: An evaluation of the evidence,” social sensitivity is an important quality for today’s effective leaders.

“Whereas in the past, leaders based their authority mainly on their access to political, economic, or military power, in postindustrial societies leaders share power far more and establish many collaborative relationships (Lipman-Blumen, 1996). Therefore, contemporary views of good leadership encourage teamwork and collaboration and emphasize the ability to empower, support, and engage workers (e.g., Hammer & Champy, 1994; Senge, 1994).”

While we’re not particularly comfortable with attributing characteristics of personality rather than physicality to one gender or another, social sensitivity does seem like a skill that any group of people who a society considers to be minority or “other” would learn simply as a product of living and working in that society.

(via The Glass Hammer.)


  • Bel

    I don’t think that the same would hold true of any “Other”ed group.  You’re right that social sensitivity is a learned behaviour, but it’s one that is particular to femininity – women are brought up to be collaborative.  It isn’t just a coping strategy.

  • Anonymous

    So can we use this as an argument for why companies should hire more women?

  • Krasimir Savov

    And in other news, water discovered to be wet!

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    That’s amazing, but I just read on Yahoo! that you have to plug a toaster in the wall in order for it to be most effective! The heat doesn’t just magically spring into the grills!

  • Robyn

    What about groups of only women?  (weird to me that default group is dudes?)

  • Frodo Baggins

    “anygroup of people who a society considers to be minority or “other” would learn simply as a product of living and working in that society.”

    Makes more sense to me that this sugar and spice gender-essentialist hooey.

  • Frodo Baggins

    Yeah, but then you don’t get to make socketist jokes with impunity with your heat friends in the toaster workplace.