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The Advantage Blog

  • Laura L. Dominic


Both. While this answer might seem obvious, new research explains why having both men and women in groups increases the collective intelligence of that group. Anita Wolley and Thomas Malone studied group intelligence and found, “Little correlation between a group’s collective intelligence and the IQs of its individual members. But if a group includes more women, its collective intelligence rises.”

The professors theorize that part of what makes the difference are women’s social skills. Women tend to score higher on tests of social sensitivity than men. Let me make clear that social sensitivity does not mean “sympathetic to the plaintiffs,” “more emotional,” or “less rational.” People who are the socially sensitive type prefer to take longer to make decisions and are more conscientious during the decision-making process. With more social sensitivity comes increased listening, open-mindedness, and tolerance for criticism.

Common societal stereotypes of men suggest that men are more logical and assertive in their opinions, qualities that might seem important in a deliberation. However, it turns out that the presence of social sensitivity plays a better role in reaching a well-thought out, reasoned verdict.

For example, the presence of more social sensitivity on your jury (which is more likely to come from women) increases collaboration. When we watch mock juries deliberate, it’s typically the women who ensure that everyone participates:

— “Jane, I want to hear from you. How do you feel about all of this?” — “John, you’ve made your point very clear, I’d like to hear from others.” — “Wait, before we take a vote, has everyone stated their opinion?”

The inclusion of more women also increases the chance that a silent dissenting juror doesn’t get left out, or that an autocratic juror doesn’t dominate the discussion. This may be due to the fact that women are better at interpreting other people’s moods than men tend to be. Women look around the room and observe how other jurors are reacting and feeling during deliberation:

— “Sam, I can see that you don’t really agree with the group. Why don’t you tell us how you feel?” — “John, I think you need to back down a bit. I don’t think others agree with you.” — “Maybe we ought to take a break right now, some of our fellow jurors are feeling a bit overwhelmed.”

The fact that socially sensitive people are more conscientious during the decision-making process may also explain why it was a woman, not a man, who demanded that her fellow jurors back up their “gut reactions” with evidence. When this juror was interviewed in a post-trial phone interview, she explained that every time a juror would say, “I just feel that the plaintiff should get some money,” or “It just seems right,” she would demand that they “show proof that this is true.”

Fortunately, most juries are a balanced mix of men and women, so litigants can reap the benefits that women bring to group intelligence. Hopefully this research will revolutionize how governments, corporations, and other decision-making bodies assemble their groups.

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