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Born To Collaborate

Are we genetically predisposed to collaborate?  There may be a biological basis as to why some individuals collaborate and multitask far more effectively than others.

In 2003, Harvard researcher Shelley H. Carson and two colleagues published research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology focusing on latent inhibition and conducted studies that would address the question whether creative individuals benefit from low latent inhibition.

Latent inhibition is "the capacity to screen from conscious awareness stimuli previously experienced as irrelevant"  (Carson, Peterson, and Higgins, 2003, p. 499).  In other words, latent inhibition helps people filter out random inputs.  Low latent inhibition, i.e. a state where an individual has a reduced capacity to filter out extraneous stimuli, has previously been associated in the literature with psychotic states or with psychotic proneness.

But some highly intelligent individuals are more porous, and simply do not filter out all such irrelevant stimuli.  In fact, they may accept these extra inputs and the inputs become a part of the creative process.

This means that creative people remain more aware of and alert to extra information that comes streaming in from the surrounding environment.  A "normal" person would see an object, classify it, and then forget about it, even though the object may be far more complex than he believes it to be.  Someone who is less mentally keen needs to filter out extraneous stimuli in order to avoid suffering from overload and a resulting psychosis.

Carson, in the May-June 2004 issue of Harvard Magazine, explains that "Intelligence allows you to manipulate the additional stimuli in novel ways without being overwhelmed by them." 

Reading this article got me thinking: how might low latent inhibition impact knowledge workers?

A highly intelligent knowledge worker with a good memory might actually benefit from low latent inhibition, as it would amplify that person's capacity to think about many things and issues at one time.  This predisposes such a person to being open to new information and concepts -- hence, that person could multitask more effectively and discriminate between everything that's coming his way.

If you have ever noticed that some people can easily manage multiple inputs, a conference call, documents, a half dozen instant messaging sessions -- all at the same time -- while most others cannot, you may have been observing someone with low latent inhibition.

We'll be looking at this issue in more depth in the coming months; in the meantime, please share your thoughts and experiences with me by writing to me at

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