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Why size matters: groups, dialog and high quality participation
Some research findings about groupsand discussions
Work by James, Hart and others in the early 1950s showed that:• Interaction patterns change—becoming more concentrated on the talkative few—as group size rises; and• Naturally occurring interactive groups are not observed with more than 6 people
Status and (over) confidence impact onparticipation…the overconfident members were theones who spoke the most often, used aconfident tone, gave the mostinformation, and came across as calmand relaxed. These individuals were alsomore convincing in displays of ability thanother members who were highlycompetent.“A Status-Enhancement Account of Overconfidence”.Cameron Anderson et al, Journal of Personality and SocialPsychology, Jul 16 , 2012
In a discussion, ‘squeaky wheels’ can pre-empt the agendaTo derive the most useful information from multiple sources of evidence, youshould always try to make these sources independent of each other. A simplerule can help: before an issue is discussed, [everyone] should be asked to write avery brief summary of their position. This … makes good use of … the diversityof knowledge and opinion in the group. The standard practice of opendiscussion gives too much weight to the opinions of those who speak early andassertively, causing others to line up behind them. Gather opinions beforetalking them over.Kahneman (2011) Thinking Fast and Slow.
Sequencing matters for tworeasons. As we just saw, squeakywheels can set the agenda. Butalso, as memory researchshows, ‘dysergry* canmasquerade as synergy’ …* Dysergy—whole is less than the sum of the parts
Although conversation can facilitate remembering when considering what thegroup as a whole produces, individual members of the group will remember lessin a conversation than they are capable of when remembering alone, so-calledcollaborative inhibition … They may remember something that they would notremember alone … but, overall and on average, they will remember less. Thus,the group as a whole may remember more than any individuals alone wouldremember in isolation, but each individual is not achieving her individualcapacity to remember. (Emphasis added.) *…+Fagin, Martin M., et al (2013). "The Adaptive Function of Distributed Remembering: Contributionsto the Formation of Collective Memory." Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 1-16.
The retrieval disruption hypothesisposits that collaborative inhibitionoccurs, at least in part, because onegroup member’s pursuit of aneffective retrieval strategy disruptsthe use of retrieval strategies thatmay be more effective for other groupmembersFagin, Martin M., et al Op Cit.
Dysergy can masquerade as synergy: if my view ofour ‘pool’ of knowledge is that it is more than I alonecan imagine/recall I –and others—can be convincedhow well we did …even though our pool is much lessthan the sum of our full, separate contributions couldyield. We might get a warm glow despiteunderperforming our potential.
So, both to head off squeaky wheels ANDto reduce collective inhibition, it pays to‘write first and talk later’ …
When the discussion is ‘interactivedialogue’, group members areinfluenced most by those withwhom they interact. In small ( upto 5 person) groups, theconversation has this dialogiccharacter and influence isgoverned by the interaction.
In large, 10 person (or more) groups) the communicationis like monologue and members are influenced most bythe dominant speaker.Fay, Garrod & Carletta (2000) Group discussion as interactive dialogue or serial monologue.Psychological Science.
Furthermore, ‘conversation is easy’:“…humans are designed for dialogue rather than monologue… Conversationssucceed, not because of complex reasoning, but rather because of alignmentat seemingly disparate linguistic levels. … the majority of routine socialbehaviour reflects the operation of … a ‘perception–behaviour expressway’ …we are ‘wired’ in such a way that there are direct links between perceptionand action across a wide range of social situations.Simon Garrod and Martin J. Pickering (2004) ‘Why is conversation so easy?’, TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences, Vol.8 No.1 January
‘The expressway has aneural basis’:“…*a+ speaker’s *brain+ activity *pattern+ is … coupled with the listener’s activity[pattern]. This coupling vanishes when participants fail to communicate. Moreover,though on average the listener’s brain activity mirrors the speaker’s activity with adelay, we also find areas that exhibit predictive anticipatory responses. We connectedthe extent of neural coupling to a … measure of story comprehension and find that thegreater the anticipatory speaker–listener coupling, the greater the understanding.”[emphasis added.]Speaker–listener neural coupling underlies successful communication Greg J. Stephens et al (2010) Proc. of the NationalAcademy of Sciences of the US. vol. 107, no. 32 p. 14425
Emotions make us ‘tick together’:Human emotions are highly contagious … Prolonged natural stimulation, such as viewing a movieor listening to a narrative, results in … intersubject correlation (ISC) in a multitude of brain areas.… Because emotions make individuals feel, act, and view the world in a similar fashion, emotion-dependent ISC in the limbic emotion systems, as well as in *other+ networks … *is+ a crucialmechanism to facilitate interpersonal understanding during emotionally intense events. …emotions are associated with enhanced ISC … synchronization of brain activation duringemotional encounters supports enhanced contextual understanding across individuals. Emotionspromote social interaction by synchronizing brain activity across individuals . (Emph. Added)Lauri Nummenmaa et al (2011) Proc. of the National Academy of Sciences of the US . vol. 109 no. 24 p. 9599
How is the group outputaffected by composition andparticipation?
Collective intelligence(C) seems to hinge on3 things:1. a significant correlation between c and the average social sensitivity of group members;2. c was negatively correlated with the variance in the number of speaking turns by group members. In other words, groups where a few people dominated the conversation were less collectively intelligent than those with a more equal distribution of conversational turn-taking.
3. Finally, c was positively and significantly correlated with the proportion of females in the group … However, this result appears to be largely mediated by social sensitivity … because (consistent with previous research) women in our sample scored better on the social sensitivity measure than men . …. Woolley et al (2010) “Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups”, SciencePhoto credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sukanto_debnath/504258852/">Sukanto Debnath</a> / <a href="http://foter.com">Foter.com</a> / <ahref="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">CC BY</a>
Among other things, these findings support comments by the late Aaron Swartz (left) on conferences and their discontents. (See http://t.co/3fXejpf0QL):1. Speech is a bad medium for communicating information. (This one is due to Tufte.) Speech can’t be stopped and rewound, it can’t be carefully examined, it can’t be slowed down, it can’t be paused, it can’t present complex concepts, and it’s really very low bandwidth. Just use paper. Tufte suggested giving the audience a bunch of paper that communicated the important information and have them read through it before hand.2. 2. Speech is a good medium for dialog. (Also due toTufte.) Speech is best used for interaction. “Are you sure that’s correct?” “Have you seen this?” …“Why didn’t you go this way?” Smart people love discussing things with othersmart people, especially when the others are informed. Let them!