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Group size, dialog and high quality participation

  1. Why size matters: groups, dialog and high quality participation
  2. Some research findings about groups and discussions
  3. 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
  4. Which people do the talking?
  5. Status and (over) confidence impact on participation …the overconfident members were the ones who spoke the most often, used a confident tone, gave the most information, and came across as calm and relaxed. These individuals were also more convincing in displays of ability than other members who were highly competent. “A Status-Enhancement Account of Overconfidence”. Cameron Anderson et al, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Jul 16 , 2012
  6. In a discussion, ‘squeaky wheels’ can pre-empt the agenda To derive the most useful information from multiple sources of evidence, you should always try to make these sources independent of each other. A simple rule can help: before an issue is discussed, [everyone] should be asked to write a very brief summary of their position. This … makes good use of … the diversity of knowledge and opinion in the group. The standard practice of open discussion gives too much weight to the opinions of those who speak early and assertively, causing others to line up behind them. Gather opinions before talking them over. Kahneman (2011) Thinking Fast and Slow.
  7. Does sequencing matter?
  8. Sequencing matters for two reasons. As we just saw, squeaky wheels can set the agenda. But also, as memory research shows, ‘dysergry* can masquerade as synergy’ … * Dysergy—whole is less than the sum of the parts
  9. Although conversation can facilitate remembering when considering what the group as a whole produces, individual members of the group will remember less in a conversation than they are capable of when remembering alone, so-called collaborative inhibition … They may remember something that they would not remember alone … but, overall and on average, they will remember less. Thus, the group as a whole may remember more than any individuals alone would remember in isolation, but each individual is not achieving her individual capacity to remember. (Emphasis added.) *…+ Fagin, Martin M., et al (2013). "The Adaptive Function of Distributed Remembering: Contributions to the Formation of Collective Memory." Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 1-16.
  10. The retrieval disruption hypothesis posits that collaborative inhibition occurs, at least in part, because one group member’s pursuit of an effective retrieval strategy disrupts the use of retrieval strategies that may be more effective for other group members Fagin, Martin M., et al Op Cit.
  11. Dysergy can masquerade as synergy: if my view of our ‘pool’ of knowledge is that it is more than I alone can imagine/recall I –and others—can be convinced how well we did …even though our pool is much less than the sum of our full, separate contributions could yield. We might get a warm glow despite underperforming our potential.
  12. So, both to head off squeaky wheels AND to reduce collective inhibition, it pays to ‘write first and talk later’ …
  13. What does the talk look like?
  14. When the discussion is ‘interactive dialogue’, group members are influenced most by those with whom they interact. In small ( up to 5 person) groups, the conversation has this dialogic character and influence is governed by the interaction.
  15. In large, 10 person (or more) groups) the communication is like monologue and members are influenced most by the dominant speaker. Fay, Garrod & Carletta (2000) Group discussion as interactive dialogue or serial monologue. Psychological Science.
  16. Furthermore, ‘conversation is easy’: “…humans are designed for dialogue rather than monologue… Conversations succeed, not because of complex reasoning, but rather because of alignment at seemingly disparate linguistic levels. … the majority of routine social behaviour reflects the operation of … a ‘perception–behaviour expressway’ … we are ‘wired’ in such a way that there are direct links between perception and 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
  17. ‘The expressway has a neural 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 a delay, we also find areas that exhibit predictive anticipatory responses. We connected the extent of neural coupling to a … measure of story comprehension and find that the greater 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 National Academy of Sciences of the US. vol. 107, no. 32 p. 14425
  18. Emotions make us ‘tick together'’: Human emotions are highly contagious … Prolonged natural stimulation, such as viewing a movie or 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 crucial mechanism to facilitate interpersonal understanding during emotionally intense events. … emotions are associated with enhanced ISC … synchronization of brain activation during emotional encounters supports enhanced contextual understanding across individuals. Emotions promote 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
  19. How is the group output affected by composition and participation?
  20. Collective intelligence (C) seems to hinge on 3 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.
  21. 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”, Science Photo credit: <a href="">Sukanto Debnath</a> / <a href=""></a> / <a href="">CC BY</a>
  22. Among other things, these findings support comments by the late Aaron Swartz (left) on conferences and their discontents. (See 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 to Tufte.) 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 other smart people, especially when the others are informed. Let them!