The Hidden Brain

Our unconscious biases.

Does Aggressiveness Help or Hinder Performance?

How useful are aggressive players on teams? Not much.

Aggressive individuals raise the metabolism of groups, but do they increase or reduce the effectiveness of teams? New research suggests aggressive individuals reduce the effectiveness of teams, and also hinder the ability of teams to learn new things.

Imagine you are the coach of a sports team. A young player wants to join your team. He is talented, and aggressive.
A) You pick the young player because his natural aggressiveness will help your team
B) You reject the young player because his natural aggressiveness will hurt your team

The correct answer is B.

I based this puzzle on empirical research by Mark C. Bowler, David J. Woehr, Joan R. Rentsch and Jennifer L. Bowler who tested whether the addition of an aggressive personality to teams increased or decreased the performance of the teams. They found that such personalities not only hinder teams, but hinder themselves as well; aggressiveness seems to reduce the ability of individuals to acquire new knowledge and to perform at their best.

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Shankar Vedantam is a science reporter with National Public Radio and a Nieman fellow at Harvard University.

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