Do You Experience Social Anxiety? Research Reveals Influence of Small-Group Dynamics on Perceptions of IQ

Many of us have experienced lapses in cognitive function in a social situation -- drawing a blank during a meeting with higher-ups, for example, or stumbling over words at a networking event -- and new research from the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute may help explain why these lapses occur.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, researchers looked at how small-group dynamics can affect expressions and perceptions of IQ. Surprisingly, peers have a great influence over how some people express their intelligence, which in turn shapes how their intellect is perceived by others.

"We started with individuals who were matched for their IQ," said Read Montague, the director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and the Computational Psychiatry Unit at Virginia Tech. "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."

The group's findings fly in the face of the conventional idea that the brain divides cognitive and social processing. In fact, the two interact deeply, and when social dynamics interfere with the expression of IQ, individuals might erroneously perceive someone as less intelligent than they really are.

The study has even bigger implications for business. "We don't know how much these effects are present in real-world settings," explained lead author Kenneth Kishida. "But given the potentially harmful effects of social-status assignments and the correlation with specific neural signals, future research should be devoted to what, exactly, society is selecting for in competitive learning and workplace environments. By placing an emphasis on competition, for example, are we missing a large segment of the talent pool? Further brain imaging research may also offer avenues for developing strategies for people who are susceptible to these kinds of social pressures."

Have you ever met someone who seems brilliant in one-on-one situations and more subdued in larger groups?

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