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The Secret to Smarter Teams May Be Women

A group of MIT scientists has found out why some groups, like some people, are reliably smarter than others, the New York Times reports.

0017-logo-366x366“Individual intelligence, as psychologists measure it, is defined by its generality: People with good vocabularies, for instance, also tend to have good math skills, even though we often think of those abilities as distinct. The results of our studies showed that this same kind of general intelligence also exists for teams. On average, the groups that did well on one task did well on the others, too. In other words, some teams were simply smarter than others.”

The smartest teams were distinguished by three characteristics:

1. Their members contributed more equally to the team’s discussions, rather than letting one or two people dominate the group.

2. Their members scored higher on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which measures how well people can read complex emotional states from images of faces with only the eyes visible.

3. Teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. Indeed, it appeared that it was not “diversity” (having equal numbers of men and women) that mattered for a team’s intelligence, but simply having more women. This last effect, however, was partly explained by the fact that women, on average, were better at “mindreading” than men.

Derek Thompson: “I found these studies eye-opening for two further reasons. First, there is a growing sense that the Internet can destroy interpersonal skills, kill our emotional intelligence, and turn us into warm-blooded versions of the very robots that we fear will one day take our jobs. But these studies suggest that the rules of empathy hold both on- and offline. Emotionally sensitive people are gifted at reading between the lines, whether the literal lines are brow wrinkles or text messages.”

“Second, if you take these findings seriously, they represent a third fork of evidence suggesting that the male-female gender wage gap will not only close but also invert. It would surprise me if, in a generation, women aren’t earning more than men across many mainstream industries.”