Archive | November 28, 2010

The Collective Intelligence of Women

The Collective Intelligence of Women

By Hwaa Irfan

When women are not functioning in the masculine mode, remain imbedded in their natural instincts is their disapproval of disagreement. Like it or not, women are more family orientated, and family being what it innately is, it is the microcosm of the society. When human spirit fails, instinct rears its head.

Findings at the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, have found that the number of women involved in a group activity is influential in the ability of a group to cooperate overriding intelligence, and cognition of each individual member of the group. The ability of a group to perform well across assignments, projects, initiatives in a working environment depends on their ability to cooperate. When cooperation is lacking; so too is the performance of the group. Looking at small teams, they also found that groups that performed well collectively, also were able to function well across a wide variety of tasks. The study led by Anita William Woolley found that:

“Social sensitivity has to do with how well group members perceive each other’s emotions,” said Christopher Chabris, co-author of the study.

“Also, in groups where one person dominated, the group was less collectively intelligent than in groups where the conversational turns were more evenly distributed,” added Woolley.

It so happened that the quality of social sensitivity was found to be greater when there were more women involved, leading to improved team work.

The study which was not designed to look at gender involved looking at 699 people who were organized into groups of 2 – 5. Carried out by Alexander Pentland, Anita Woolley, Christopher Chabris, Nada Hashmi, and Thomas Malone, the tasks they were given ranged from negotiating, brainstorming, games, and assignments with complex rules. Those that did well, appeared to be explained by the greater social sensitivity of the women present in those groups, but surely this can be tailored by whether women function in the masculine mode or as women:

“So having group members with higher social sensitivity is better regardless of whether they are male or female,” Woolley explained.

“It really calls into question our whole notion of what intelligence is. What individuals can do all by themselves is becoming less important; what matters more is what they can do with others and by using technology.”

“Having a bunch of smart people in a group doesn’t necessarily make the group smart,” concluded Malone.

Traditional Society

The above realization is nothing new to social anthropologists, especially those who have focused on the role of women in the development of society as a cohesive entity. In the process of nursing and nurturing children, women have organized the means to do so, when it comes to provision that will lead to survival of life. This in turn leads to production for the whole.

In traditional Javanese culture, the underlying belief for the individual is that everyone holds the potential to develop a spiritual inner strength through continuous practice of emotional and behavioral self control – the social reward being self mastery. Transferred to gender the husband entrust his financial affairs to his wife. For it is the wife who rules the home making most of the decisions around family finances, consulting with him only on major issues. This responsibility transfers to the market place and trade, as trade was considered to be the domain of women. This relationship changed with the advance of colonialism, which reflected in globalization, puts men in control of family, national and domestic finances – need I say more! 

With modernization, Indonesian women have been relegated to the financial affairs of the home, and for men to maintain it that way, they use derogatory labeling of the world of women and finance, leaving the affected etiquette of conduct to one of social status, and spiritual potency and comportment. Reinforcing stereotypes to maintain the modern myth of gender, maybe the crises in social order has much to do with the reduction of the women’s sphere with the rise of statehood as a male preoccupation. Ignoring the competiveness of men, men in general do find it difficult to judge rationally, and do judge on the basis of nafsu and hawa nafsu – passion and desire. They do order the world according to those desires only giving it the fine wrapping of a form of politics, which underlies all the issues pertaining to the wholesome development of a society, and that society’s relationship with its neighbors – and in doing so, women increasingly operate in the masculine mode, and judge accordingly. 

Nafsu can take on the form of sex and money, which is a prevalent addiction to the way in which affair are conducted today. Nafsu take a greater control because we have removed arenas of responsibility, through myths of individualism, and conditional human rights. Everything is judged on a situation-to-situation basis, removing any real obligation to create for the whole.  If there is any benefit in women reclaiming their space in the public sphere it is that they should claim their innate right to collective responsibility without feeling “obliged” to think and behave like men. But what happens when we confuse being competitive, use the body instead of minds and hearts, victimhood, being manipulative, and playing one person up against the other with what it really means to be a woman!


Brettell, C.B.ed.  “Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective.” Prentice Hall, U.S. 1993

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2010, October 2). Collective intelligence: Number of women in group linked to effectiveness in solving difficult problems.­ /releases/2010/09/100930143339.htm

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