Light Friday: How Being in Groups Makes People Dumber

Plus: Cleaning Up Cosmic Clutter and Valentine’s Day Bleeding into President’s Day.

Valentine’s Day Bleeds into President’s Day

It used to be that you bought a bouquet of flowers, a box of chocolates and a card, and you celebrated Valentine’s Day with your significant other over a nice quiet meal together. Now it requires an extended weekend to celebrate, according to Orbitz.

Based on survey and booking data analyzed by the online travel company, nearly 40 percent of survey respondents planned to celebrate Valentine’s Day on the actual day this year (Tuesday), but many are also taking advantage of the following three-day holiday weekend. Orbitz data reveal that 56 percent more hotel bookings are planned for President’s Day weekend, compared with last weekend.

Meanwhile, according to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) latest annual Valentine’s Day Consumer Intentions and Actions survey, total holiday spending by consumers is expected to reach $17.6 billion this year.

“Love may not cost a thing, but consumers this year are set to spoil their friends, family and loved ones this Valentine’s Day in a very big way,” the NRF says. “[T]he average person celebrating the holiday will shell out $126.03, up 8.5 percent over last year’s $116.21 and the highest in the survey’s 10-year history. Consumers’ ‘better halves’ will shell out the most on their partners, with the average person planning to spend $74.12 on their spouse or significant other, up from $68.98 last year.”

And where is the best location to celebrate Valentine’s Day (and apparently President’s Day)? According to Orbitz’s findings, Las Vegas tops the list as the most popular destination. Sin City was also deemed “the sexiest city in the country,” bumping last year’s winner, San Francisco, to No. 5.

Cleaning Up Cosmic Clutter

Ever since humans began exploring space more than half a century ago, we’ve littered all sorts of junk and debris into orbit, from defunct satellites to spatulas. Today, 16,000 objects larger than 10 cm in diameter and hundreds of millions of smaller particles are ripping around the Earth.

An upcoming film on space junk attempts to provide a visceral appreciation of the “growing ring of orbiting debris that threatens the safety of Earth’s orbits.”

Now, one of the world’s smallest nations may have found a low-cost solution to one of the world’s biggest space problems.

Researchers at the Swiss Space Center at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) this week announced the launch of CleanSpace One, a project to develop and build the first installment of a family of satellites specially designed to clean up space debris.

“In the first instance, the team wants to launch a small grabber spacecraft to chase after an orbiting piece of space junk. It will then attach itself to the object and then de-orbit it. The automated grabber will burn up in the atmosphere with the debris,” Discovery News explains. “Although they’re starting small, the EPFL team wants to build a variety of systems capable of pulling objects of various sizes from orbit.”

Groups Make People Appear Dumber

Most of us have witnessed, or been part of, groups of smart people who simply cannot work well together. As we noted last year, a 2010 report suggests that this occurs because individual smarts don’t have much to do with team performance.

New research from scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute explains how many small-group dynamics — such as jury deliberations, collective bargaining sessions and cocktail parties — can alter the expression of IQ in some susceptible people; that is, why people become, in effect, less intelligent in small group settings.

“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,” study leader Read Montague, director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory and the Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, said in an announcement of the findings.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate how the brain processes information about social status in small groups and how perceptions of that status affect expressions of cognitive capacity, the researchers “started with individuals who were matched for their IQ.” Subjects were placed in small groups and ranked on performance of cognitive tasks against their peers. After the rankings were broadcast to the group, some individuals showed “dramatic drops” in their ability to solve problems, the researchers explain. “The social feedback had a significant effect.”

As the Wall Street Journal puts it: “If we think others in a group are smarter, we may become dumber, temporarily losing both our problem-solving ability and what the researchers call our ‘expression of IQ.’”

This “clamming-up phenomenon,” reported in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B last month, appears to be more common in women and in people with higher IQs.

“Our study highlights the unexpected and dramatic consequences even subtle social signals in group settings may have on individual cognitive functioning,” according to lead author Kenneth Kishida, a research scientist with the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. “And, through neuroimaging, we were able to document the very strong neural responses that those social cues can elicit.”

In observance of President’s Day, IMT will be shuttered on Monday. We’ll return immediately after the holiday weekend with our Weekly Industry Crib Sheet. Until then, we wish all our readers a safe and happy weekend! Cheers.


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  • Greg Dobson
    March 26, 2012

    Very interesting article! Makes a lot of sense how people’s IQ’s can vary in different circumstances. It depends on the personality of the person as well because some people work better in groups, and others work better as individuals. is your best source for commercial, restaurant, and office building cleaning!

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