The trouble with meetings

Why you end up seeming less intelligent than you really are in meetings

Peter Harris|

Do you ever come up with the perfect contribution to meeting discussion – twenty minutes after the meeting has ended? Or have you been part of meeting where you felt that your ability to express your creative ideas just wasn’t working at full capacity?

It’s not your fault that your full potential isn’t coming across; meetings actually are affecting your capacity for intelligent, creative thought.

A new study from the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute shows that group dynamics tend to interfere with individuals’ cognitive abilities. For this study, people with relatively high IQs were tested individually and then again in small groups of similar intelligence. Collectively they had much more trouble with problem solving tests.

 “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, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

While the overall performance and intelligence of all group members fell, women’s IQs were more significantly affected than men’s. Age and ethnicity did not seem to have any effect on performance or brain responses.

The study authors say that the same brain slowing effects could likely be felt by people in numerous situations such as dinner parties, social gatherings, committee meetings and even jury duty.

“So much of our society is organized around small-group interactions,” said Kenneth Kishida, a research scientist with the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. “Understanding how our brains respond to dynamic social interactions is an important area of future research.” He noted that social dynamics could be affecting the brain power not just of people at work, but of the decision making committees of government and even the United Nations. Situations where you really want people to be using their full brain potential.

So the next time you want to hold a brainstorming session to come up with a solution to an important problem, you might want to ask people for their ideas individually rather than crowding them into a room. And if someone in a meeting doesn’t seem quite as smart as you thought they were… cut them some slack. It happens to all of us.


- Peter Harris

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