They say that if you are the smartest person in the room, then you must be in the wrong room. But if you are just the typical average smart person like most of us are, using your intelligence to stick out in a crowd is a fundamental skill. A new study by two neurobiologists have decoded the one trait that makes some people the “wisest” in a crowd and also how to spot a smart crowd or a dumb crowd.
There is a phenomenon called the “wisdom of the crowd” where the collective opinion of a group can be “better” than a single expert opinion. This is a scary concept for intelligent scientist types- if an opinion is more popular than the actual facts, it holds greater weight. If you frequent Reddit, this is a very normal occurrence.
Gabriel Madirolas and Gonzalo De Polavieja of the Cajal Institute in Madrid, the largest neuroscience research center in Spain, have found a way to get past the bias of the crowd.
The simple answer is to be the most confident thinker in the crowd.
You see, there are smart crowds, defined by having a wide range of independent thinkers, or stupid crowds, defined by how easily the crowd can be manipulated by biased or additional information. Madirolas and De Polavieja found that when individuals in a group formulate a decision, they really only weigh two factors- their own individual opinion against any additional information. Smarter people tend to ignore the additional information, or whatever unverified facts and ideas are floating out there, and go with what they know to be true. The not so smart people are easily swayed by outside or biased information.
According to Madirolas and De Polavieja,
“Our results show that, while a simple operation like the mean, median, or geometric mean of a group may not allow groups to make good estimations, a more complex operation taking into account individuality in the social dynamics can lead to a better collective intelligence.”
That’s why the answer is to be confident in your own thought process and go with what you think rather than rely on unverified outside information. When gauging a crowd, stick to the independent thinkers of the crowd, or those who are confident in what they know, and collectively form an opinion or make a decision. Eliminating biased thinkers and thinking is the key to being the smartest in the crowd.
What’s the overall lesson here? Be an independent thinker and don’t fall for group mentalities of just eating whatever information you are fed.