Meetings: Brainstorm or Brain Drain?

Meetings are a regular part of working life, an opportunity to collaborate, solve a problem, or accomplish a goal. Many of us assume that meetings, while sometimes tedious or dull, are still the best way to bring good ideas to the table. New research led by scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, however, suggests quite the opposite—meetings may, in fact, make us dumber.

The study’s authors assert that the social dynamic that occurs in meetings can have a detrimental effect on our ability to think clearly. “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 co-author Read Montague, in a recent interview with msnbc.com author Linda Carroll.

In the study, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at the brains of college-student volunteers as they took an IQ test. Next, the students were divided into groups with similar IQs and given a second test. Each time they answered a question during the second round of testing, they were given feedback about their performance compared to others in the group. Although the volunteers were well matched in terms of initial IQ scores, scores dropped dramatically when students were receiving constant feedback about their performance relative to others in their group.

According to lead author Kenneth Kishida, constant reminders of status were stimulating parts of the brain involving fear, anxiety, and emotional response—and this was causing the students to perform poorly on the test. In the context of a meeting, such negative feelings can be triggered by a sense that others in the group are smarter or better prepared—even when they aren’t. According to Kishida, the perception alone can stifle our best thinking.

What do you think? Do meetings help or hinder intelligence and creativity? Leave a comment and join the conversation!

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