Science Has Proven That Meetings Make You Dumber

By Danny Nathan

Science Has Proven That Meetings Make You Dumber

Research has revealed a startling truth about the cognitive impacts of meetings, particularly within small group settings. Studies conducted by Kishida et al. (2012) have shown that the dynamics of small group interactions can significantly suppress individual cognitive performance. This suppression is primarily attributed to the implicit signals of social status broadcasted within these groups, which not only differentiate individuals based on their cognitive capacity and social status but also lead to a marked decrease in this capacity overall.

Simply put: meetings make you dumber (temporarily).

The study utilized a ranked group IQ task, revealing an initial overall decrease in cognitive capacity among participants. This environment divided individuals into high performers (HP) and low performers (LP), identifiable by changes in estimated intelligence quotient (IQ) and brain responses. This research highlights the profound effect that perceived social status within a small group — akin to what might be found in business meetings — can have on an individual's ability to think and solve problems effectively. 

The findings suggest that when individuals perceive themselves as lower status within a group, it can lead to diminished cognitive capacities, exacerbated by specific neurobehavioral responses.For managers and operational professionals, these insights offer a crucial perspective on the structure and utility of meetings. 

The implicit ranking and social dynamics inherent in many meeting environments may result in diminished cognitive performance, leading to less effective decision-making and innovation. This underscores the importance of reevaluating meeting cultures within organizations to foster environments where all members can contribute their best cognitive capacities.

Strategies for Maximizing Meeting Effectiveness:

1. Awareness and Adaptation: Understanding the cognitive impact of meetings is the first step toward creating a more conducive environment for all participants. Leaders should strive to minimize the implicit ranking cues inherent in many meeting structures.

2. Inclusive Practices: Promote a culture of equality within meetings where every participant feels valued and encouraged to contribute, regardless of their perceived status or rank within the organization.

3. Meeting Design: Consider the necessity of each meeting and its potential cognitive load on participants. Opt for alternative modes of communication where possible and ensure meetings are well-structured with clear objectives.

4. Fostering Open Communication: Encourage an atmosphere where feedback is not only accepted but actively sought. This can help mitigate the negative impacts of perceived social hierarchies on cognitive performance.

5. Continuous Evaluation: Regularly assess the effectiveness of meetings in achieving their goals without compromising the cognitive well-being of participants. Surveys and feedback mechanisms can be valuable tools in this regard.

The research conducted by Kishida et al. serves as a critical reminder of the unseen costs associated with meetings. By acknowledging these effects and adapting meeting practices accordingly, leaders can safeguard their team's cognitive resources, promoting a more productive and innovative organizational culture. And, if you’re looking for a deeper analytical view of how your team spends meeting time, check out our venture: Meeting Cost Calculator.

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