Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mind:  Speaking up Is Hard to Do: Researchers Explain Why

Research from scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute offers an explanation of why many people become, in effect, less intelligent in small group settings.
The researchers administered a standard intelligence test to 70 individuals and divided them into 14 groups of five. Then the groups repeated 92 test questions dealing with sequences and spatial problems.

Two subjects from each group answered the questions while having fMRI scans. After each question, the subjects saw how they ranked within the group and whether their ranking went up, down or stayed the same relative to the group.

Initially, all the brain scans showed spikes in activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain that registers fear and processes emotion. But after answering 10 or so questions, 13 subjects recovered and ended up with scores that were closer to their initial performance. Meanwhile, 14 didn't recover.

"Some people stayed stressed and freaked out the whole time, and some people habituated relatively quickly and started solving small problems," Dr. Montague said.

The researchers reported that 11 of the 14 "low performers" were female; 10 of the 13 "high performers" were men.

The low-performers were more attuned to group social dynamics, subconsciously worrying about their performance and evaluating themselves in relation to others, the researchers speculate.

Women often are more attentive to what others may be feeling or thinking, a sensitivity that likely has an evolutionary origin, Dr. Montague says.

If you are quiet in a group setting, it doesn't necessarily mean you are shy, but it does mean you might be an introvert.

Introverts prefer to collect their thoughts before speaking and can be overwhelmed in a group, especially of extraverts, who tend to "think out loud" and process information by speaking.

For more, see Speaking up Is Hard to Do: Researchers Explain Why by Elizabeth Bernstein, February 7, 2012 at WSJ.com.

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