Opinion

Column: Business meetings can reduce intelligence

Finally, a piece of research I find all too believable. According to a study by Virginia Tech's Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute, business meetings can diminish intelligence. Well, there's a surprise, writes Billy MacInnes.

In my current incarnation, I don't have to go to any meetings but back in the day I remember the nightmare of endless meetings littering my daily schedule. It always seemed to me that in any hour long meeting, the most important time was the first five minutes and the last five minutes. Pretty much everything in-between was waffle.

It was also pretty clear that however dynamic people might feel, full to the brim with fantastic ideas, five or ten minutes in any meeting would be enough to knock pretty much all of that out of them as the group rapidly descended to the level of meeting speak and meeting thought.

According to the research from Virginia Tech, an assessment of people's intelligence before and during group activity revealed "dramatic drops" in the ability of some of them to solve problems compared to when they were working on their own, suggesting social feedback had a "significant effect" on their performance.

"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 the Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

The study also suggested people were inclined to perform less well in groups if they thought there were others in the group that were smarter than them.

"So much of our society is organised around small-group interactions. Understanding how our brains respond to dynamic social interactions is an important area of future research," stated lead study author Kenneth Kishida.

In other words, meetings may well be counter-productive for a lot of employees. Mind you, I wonder whether some bosses have an intuitive understanding of this process and use it to try and dumb their underlings down to bring them down to their level. If I was in an office now, someone would probably suggest having a meeting about this. As it is, I could have a meeting with myself about it, but I better not. I don't want to dumb myself down.

This was first published in March 2012

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