The theory goes that meetings boost creativity and smart thinking among employees, but a new research from the Virginia Tech Crilion Research Institute suggests just the opposite: that they actually make people less efficient.
The study, made on groups of 5 people, showed that individuals tended to perform worse on IQ tests after attending the meetings, especially women, and that their performance also dropped when ranked against their peers.
“We started with individuals who were matched for their IQ,” says Neuroscientist P. Read Montague, co-author of the study. “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.”
Along with IQ tests, the scientists recurred to functional magnetic resonance imaging to discover that these situations had a remarkable effect on areas of the brain associated with problem solving, emotion and reward. Although limited in scope, the study may raise concerns on current working trends.
“By placing an emphasis on competition, for example, are we missing a large segment of the talent pool?” says co-author Kenneth T. Kishida. “Further brain imaging research may also offer avenues for developing strategies for people who are susceptible to these kinds of social pressures.”
Journalist Tim Dowling, from The Guardian, offers some clues to avoid the pernicious effect of meetings. Here is one of them:
“Wear earplugs and opaque glasses that have pictures of your wide-open eyes pasted to the lenses. This should ensure you don’t hear, see or experience anything that could lower your IQ. At random intervals stick up your hand and say: “Sorry to interrupt, but that just sounds like meaningless jargon to me.” You should be on safe ground.”
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Kishida, K., Yang, D., Quartz, K., Quartz, S., & Montague, P. (2012). Implicit signals in small group settings and their impact on the expression of cognitive capacity and associated brain responses Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 367 (1589), 704-716 DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2011.0267