The researchers broke down problem-solving into two parts — gathering facts about a situation and devising solutions. Roughly 400 undergraduate participants were divided into groups of 16 people each and played an online game developed by the Defense Department that simulated predicting a pending terrorist attack. Some of those groups were what the researchers called “clustered,” or connected to each other in a clear team structure. Other groups were less connected, with workers essentially communicating with one or two people, and information was not shared among the entire group.
The highly clustered groups were 5% better than the loosely connected ones at gathering facts about the problem.That’s probably because they were more coordinated and could divide up into different areas of research, preventing overlap, the researchers concluded.
Yet the highly collaborative groups came up with fewer solutions than the more isolated groups did. People tend to copy each other and agree more when they are trying to come up with solutions together, the researchers suggest. The phenomenon is similar to “group think,” although Dr. Bernstein says it could also be described as “cognitive laziness,” because people tend to parrot one another’s ideas, and sometimes simply lack the will to disagree with a group consensus.