Campus study finds that group size increases perception of team contribution

Zainab Ali/Staff

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People tend to overestimate their personal contributions as groups increase in size, according to a recent study led by an assistant professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

The study, led by Juliana Schroeder and published Feb. 25 in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, analyzed how group size influences an individual’s perception of their contributions to a team. According to Schroeder, the extent of overclaiming surprised her.

“The big idea here is that people are often egocentric; they consider their own contributions before the contributions of others,” Schroeder said, adding that this phenomenon is natural, as one’s own ideas are more salient and accessible to them. “A challenge in our social world is getting over ourselves.”

The study included four experiments, including two field studies that documented the perceived contributions of both academic authors to articles and 699 Harvard University MBA students in study groups.

Participants were asked the percentage of the work they thought they were personally responsible for, ranking their contributions on a scale of 0-100 percent. Claims of responsibility frequently summed to more than 100 percent and as high as 150 percent in some larger groups of 14 people, Schroeder said.

Several UC Berkeley students said they could relate to Schroeder’s findings.

“I don’t remember if you came up with a great idea — I remember if I came up with a great idea,” said campus sophomore Henry Michaelson about working on group projects.

Similarly, sophomore Peach Nashed said she typically ends up taking on a leadership role and therefore does the most work in group project settings.

“If you want something done right, you do it yourself,” Nashed said.

Michaelson said, however, that this phenomenon does not apply to groups that only exchange ideas and do not collaborate on a physical project. In his recent computer science project, Michaelson said, group members were incredibly helpful with improving one another’s ideas about how to “tackle this beast.”

Haas assistant professor Ming Leung, who did not partake in Schroeder’s study, said the research has implications for management teams, optimizing efficiency at work and even marriages.

According to Leung, when everyone feels like they have contributed more than others, people will be disappointed with the recognition and feedback they receive from management teams. People within a group “may not operate as optimally as they could” if they feel as though their workload is high compared to others’, Leung said.

Schroeder said her research has helped elucidate egocentrism reduction strategies, such as asking participants to first recall what their teammates contributed before recalling their own role.

The biggest takeaway from the research, according to Leung, is to promote awareness of the egocentric phenomenon, which could improve the cohesiveness and yield of groups.

“I feel like I contribute more than other people do, (so) it’s cool to be reminded that everyone feels that way and (that) everyone did a great job at contributing,” Michaelson said.

Contact Hannah Lewis at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hlewis_dc.