example, and they locate sources of food and assign collection priority according to distance from the nest.
After these introductory observations, Woolley described her research on collective intelligence in groups of people. She began her research program with two specific questions: (1) Is there evidence that groups of people have some form of collective intelligence—a product of collaboration within the group that goes beyond what the group’s members can accomplish individually? (2) If collective intelligence exists, is it something that transcends domains—that is, if a group excels in one area or on one type of task, is it likely to excel in other areas or on other tasks? Her research shows that the answer to both questions is a clear “Yes” (Woolley et al., 2010).
Collective intelligence, Woolley explained, can be thought of as a group version of the general intelligence factor, g, for individuals. The existence of g, which was originally hypothesized by Charles Spearman (1904) in the early part of the 20th century, can be inferred from the fact that people who do well on one type of task also tend to do well on other types of tasks (Deary, 2000). The idea behind g, Woolley said, is that it is a capability that is not specific to a particular domain but rather one that transcends domains. Similarly, if it could be shown that groups that do well on one type of task also tend to do well on other types of tasks, then one could infer the existence of a collective intelligence, c, associated with groups. Woolley and her colleagues initiated a research program to investigate this hypothesis.
In particular, Woolley said, there were several specific questions that she sought to answer with her research:
Woolley hoped it might be possible to develop tests for collective intelligence in groups that played a role similar to intelligence quotient (IQ) tests for individuals—that is, tests that sample from a relatively small number of domains but that generalize to a broader set of domains and thus could provide a relatively convenient way of predicting the likely performance of groups on a large variety of tasks.
Woolley’s first study to investigate the possible existence of a collective intelligence involved 40 groups that each spent five or more hours in her lab (Woolley et al., 2010). After a group’s members were assessed on