Are Two Heads Better than One? (PDF) is an article by Rebecca Thompson from the Pyschologist Journal that discusses group processes with a focus on Collaborative memory.
Through a series of archival studies she compares group strategies of pooling vs. collaboration and the situations in which each prove to be more successful than other. A study by Taylor et al. (1958) and Dunnette et al. (1963) resulted in the nominal group (from pooling ideas together), brainstorming more solid ideas as opposed to the collaborative group attempting to simultaneously brainstorm together. Similar results were retrieved from studying other tasks including story recalling (Andersson & Ronnberg, 1996).
The ‘social loaf’ (Latane, Williams & Harkins, 1979) provides a theory that is used to explain this observation where individuals within the group experience reduced pressure to perform and assume less personal responsibility towards the task with the attitude that other members will take care of it.
However there are certain situations in which group work could attain a higher level of success. The Zajonc solution (1968) provides the dividing formula where easy tasks are facilitated with the correct response and performance is enhanced. Difficult tasks on the contrary are inhibited with an incorrect response and performance is impaired.
Thompson also continues to explore the effects of familiarity of group members, the type of tasks and other individual differences. She believes it is better to collaborate for general knowledge or shared personal experiences as opposed to memorizing new material (which is done better at an individual level). This conclusion is based on her reasoning and archival research however she did not provide any observational/ experimental evidence to support this.
It is interesting to look back at the posters we made in small groups at the beginning of the semester and realize how many of the ‘Effective Methods to Change Social Behaviour’ were used in this collaborative group setting. When we then attempted to recall these methods as a nominal group, we just had an undocumented experiment conducted on us.
Rebecca Thompson concludes: “With the right cooks and the right combination of ingredients, the broth has the potential to be very good indeed!”
When looking for “right cooks” are there specific characteristics within individuals that make them more suited for collaborative work as opposed to individual work? Or are the same individuals better all round (working collaboratively and individually)? Does the success of a collaborative task reflect the collective strengths or the most dominant strength?