Social Sensitivity Correlations with the Effectiveness
of Team Process Performance: An Empirical Study
Lisa Bender, Gursimran Walia,
Krishna Kambhampaty, Kendall E. Nygard
North Dakota State University
Computer Science Dept. 2740
Fargo, ND 58108
k.kambhampaty, kendall.nygard} @ ndsu.edu
Travis E. Nygard
300 Steward Street
Ripon, WI 54971
Teamwork is essential in industry and a university is an excellent
place to assess which skills are important and for students to
practice those skills. A positive teamwork experience can also
improve student learning outcomes. Prior research has established
that teams with high levels of social sensitivity tend to perform
well when completing a variety of specific, short-team,
collaborative tasks. Social sensitivity is the personal ability to
perceive and understand the feelings and viewpoints of others, and
it is reliably measurable. Our hypothesis is that, social sensitivity
can be a key component in positively mediating teamwork task
activities and member satisfaction. Our goal is to bring attention
to the fact that social sensitivity is an asset to teamwork. We
report the results from an empirical study that investigates
whether social sensitivity is correlated with the effectiveness of
processes involved in teamwork and team member satisfaction in
an educational setting. The results support our hypothesis that the
social sensitivity is highly correlated with team effectiveness. It
suggests, therefore, that educators in computer-related disciplines,
as well as computer professionals in the workforce, should take
the concept of social sensitivity seriously as an aid or obstacle to
team performance and the teamwork experience.
Categories and Subject Descriptors
K.3.2 [Computer and Information Science Education]:
Computer Science Education.
Experimentation, Human Factors, Measurement, Performance
Computer Science, Collaboration, Social Sensitivity, Teams,
Teamwork is increasingly important in today’s world. Although,
individual work is also highly valued, software development
projects are increasingly complex and tend to involve many
sophisticated tasks and require the collective work of individuals
to accomplish. Thus it is important to prepare students as future
practitioners and provide them with positive teamwork
experiences. Complex projects require people to interact with
each other, as well as with computing technologies. Project
development processes are often difficult due not only to the
complexity of the technologies, but also to the complexity of
social interactions between the project team members. Previous
research asserts that the ability to use soft skills to navigate
interpersonal relationships and negotiate social interactions is
critical to team success [1, 2]. With current academic standards
and curricula, many students graduate with the technical, hard
skills that they need, but they often lack necessary soft skills that
are critical to team success . Soft skills are not only important
to teamwork in industry, but also in a classroom environment.
Research results show that interpersonal and small-group skills
are essential to positive cooperative learning and improved
learning outcomes [4, 5]. Begel and Simon studied recent college
graduates who were hired by Microsoft and found that while the
new hires generally did well, there were numerous problems with
communicating and collaborating with others . Rademacher
studied students at a large university and found that a lack of soft
skills often prevented students from getting hired or caused
problems once they began working in industry .
One factor that can greatly influence collaborative team
performance is team composition. Much research has been done
on team composition, but no single attribute stands out as key to
superior performance [22-26]. Intriguing questions were raised by
a recent study, that established that group intelligence depends
less on how smart individual group members are and more on
team dynamics, including how well team members communicate
and collaborate . These researchers found that social
sensitivity, which is the personal ability to perceive the mind and
mood of others, made the largest contribution to a group’s overall
intelligence and was a primary predictor of team effectiveness in
accomplishing short-term tasks.
Motivated by these findings, a major goal of this research is to
investigate if the connection between social sensitivity and team
performance extends to students in computing fields who carry
out longer-term tasks within major projects in addition to the
short-term tasks. Another goal of this research is to determine if
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social sensitivity impacts team process activities (i.e.
brainstorming, dependability, etc.) involved in team projects. We
wanted to see if SS had an effect on any of these process activities
to better understand how SS affected team performance. One last
goal is to investigate whether social sensitivity impacts the
satisfaction of the team members. By looking at these three
measures, we hope to gain a more complete picture of the impact
of social sensitivity on the overall effectiveness of a team.
To accomplish these goals, we conducted an empirical study that
investigated the effect of social sensitivity on the performance of
project teams consisting of computer science and management
information system students who worked on semester-long
projects. These student projects were completed in multiple
stages, each building upon previous work. The results indicate
that social sensitivity of subjects is positively correlated with their
performance on the group projects. This suggests that social
sensitivity is a key factor in the success of complex projects, such
as those carried out by software development teams. Our results
also show that social sensitivity is positively correlated with many
of the process activities performed in team work and with team
2. BACKGROUND AND RELATED WORK
Teamwork is essential throughout organizations in all areas of
society, including industry and education. Increasingly, the
complexity of today’s problems cannot be solved by an individual
and require the resources of a team. Wuchty et al. has report that
over the last 50 years, more than 99 percent of the work in
scientific subfields, from biochemistry to computer science, have
experienced increased levels of teamwork and that the best
research now emerges from groups .
The prominence of team collaboration has created the need to
study what makes teams effective. In academia, the more effective
a team is, the greater chance there is for learning and success.
The educational benefits of teamwork are well documented in the
educational literature . Working in teams leads to an
improvement of learning outcomes  and is positively associated
with students’ self-assessed quality of learning . Collaborative
learning, which involves teamwork, directly engages the learner
with the subject matter. This allows for better absorption of the
material , increases socialization and exposure to different
student ideas which can improve student retention , and can
lead to an intense level of information processing that encourages
cognitive growth . Contrary to the many benefits of positive
teamwork, student learning is hindered from participating on
dysfunctional teams and they often develop negative opinions of
the value of teamwork .
Researchers find that measures of team effectiveness are
concerned with two aspects: task performance effectiveness and
measures of team member affectiveness (e.g. satisfaction,
participation, and willingness to continue to work together) [16,
17]. A major team-related factor that can affect project
performance and the effectiveness of a team is the interaction of
individual personalities. Other factors affecting the project
performance include team communication, information sharing,
cooperation, and coordination [18, 19]. One of the main factors
contributing to poor performance is project team composition .
This suggests that careful consideration in the formation of teams
Teamwork is different from project management in that it focuses
on team formation as well as team member attitudes and
behaviors; not just on the successful accomplishment of the
project . There are many factors to consider when forming
teams, and their impact on team composition has been widely
studied. Educators use many criteria to form teams such as
gender, race, prior class or work experience, personality, problem
solving style, and/or grade point average and have developed
multiple guidelines for assigning people to teams . Within the
field of Software Engineering, some of the factors include the
effects of personality composition [22, 23], team member abilities
, team roles , diversity , shared mental models ,
and team member satisfaction . Chan et al.  suggests that
soft skills are the primary factor that should be considered for
achieving good project performance. They argue that higher levels
of soft skills within the team facilitate the application
development skills and domain knowledge skills necessary to
achieve good project performance. In the spirit of this study, our
work has produced new knowledge by considering a soft skill that
Chan et al did not interrogate (social sensitivity) and investigating
how it affects the team performance.
Social Sensitivity (SS) is the ability to correctly understand the
feelings and viewpoints of people . Salovey and Mayer 
view social sensitivity as an element of emotional intelligence and
identify some of the characteristics of socially intelligent people
which include the ability to admit mistakes, to accept others for
who they are, to enhance other’s moods, to be social problem
solvers, to be flexible thinkers, and to have an interest in the world
at large. They also recognize that the appraisal and expression of
emotion often takes place on a nonverbal level. The ability to
perceive nonverbal expression ensures smoother interpersonal
cooperation. By perceiving, empathizing, and then responding
appropriately, people experience greater satisfaction, more
positive emotions, and lower stress. Such positive emotions aid in
creative thinking and enable flexibility in arriving at alternatives
to problems. Sternberg et al., identified additional behaviors
reflecting SS: thinks before speaking and doing; displays
curiosity; does not make snap judgments; makes fair judgments;
assesses well the relevance of information to the problem at hand;
and is frank and honest with self and others . Kosmitzki et al.,
noted important characteristics include being good at dealing with
people; has extensive knowledge of rules and norms in human
relations; is good at taking the perspective of other people; adapts
well in social situations; is warm and caring; and is open to new
experiences, ideas, and values . These characteristics suggest
that high levels of SS could be a benefit for teams.
Every person has a certain level of SS, but there is evidence that
people who choose technical careers have less of it on average
than the general population . More specifically, Baron-Cohen
et al.  provide evidence that engineers, mathematicians,
physicists, and computer scientists are typically less socially
sensitive than their peers in the humanities, arts, and social
sciences. This suggests that people in these technical disciplines
have more difficulty decoding what others are thinking and
feeling. Although this research did not address teams specifically,
it suggests to us that teams of technical people may be challenged
in the area of social sensitivity. Computer professionals and
engineers are stereotypically viewed as introverted independent
specialists who find it exceptionally difficult to work in teams.
The observation made by Baron-Cohen et al.  may explain
why computer professionals and engineers find team skills
difficult. This finding especially aroused our interest in studying
SS and its effects on team performance.
A major inspiration for our study comes from the work of
Woolley et al.  whose study established a correlation between
SS and effective teamwork. They describe a collective
intelligence that predicts group performance and is grounded in
how well groups interact and work together. In other words, team
performance was not driven by the intelligence of the individuals
on the team, but rather by collaborative groups who conversed
easily and contributed equally. In particular, groups whose
members had higher levels of SS were more collectively
intelligent. They found that neither the average intelligence of the
group members nor the intelligence of the smartest member
played much of a role in the team performance. Woolley stated
that the groups where the conversation was more evenly
distributed were more collectively intelligent and had better
performance on the tasks. The tasks (e.g. brainstorming, puzzle
solving, negotiating, decision making, and typing) in their study
were short-term contrived tasks requiring hours, rather than
months, to complete. Thus, those team members had little
opportunity to develop longer-term working patterns and
problems. Our study extends this research by interrogating the
effects of SS on teams that worked together for longer durations—
the better part of an academic semester—and produced a complex
series of deliverables during that time. In many ways our study
closely approximates a real working environment.
In order to proceed with our study, we needed an accurate test to
determine an individual’s level of social sensitivity. There are
several methods for testing social sensitivity. The one we chose to
use is referred to as the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” test which
was created and validated by Baron-Cohen et al. . This test
gauges the accuracy of individuals in judging someone’s
emotional state by looking at their eyes. An individual is
presented with a series of 36 photographs of the eye-area of
actors. For each photograph, the individuals are asked to choose
which of four adjectives best-describes how the person in the
photograph is feeling. This test was originally developed to
measure an ‘advanced theory of mind’ in adults, which is the
ability to identify mental states in oneself or another person and it
has been found to have test-retest reliability . Alternative
techniques for measuring social sensitivity, such as the George
Washington Social Intelligence Test  and the Vineland Social
Maturity Scale  were rejected due to reported inaccuracies or
the inclusion of factors irrelevant to our research .
As mentioned in Section 1, the researchers of this study also
investigated if SS impacts specific team process activities, and if
so, which activities are impacted more than the others. There are
many team process performance activities to consider and their
impact on team effectiveness has been widely studied . The
activities we believe were most pertinent to our project goals
consisted of brainstorming, dependability, focusing on tasks,
sharing responsibility, performance, research and information
sharing, questioning, discussing, listening, and teamwork, and are
briefly described as follows.
a) Brainstorming  is a technique used by groups or
individuals to help identify opportunities and challenges,
solve problems, and generate ideas.
b) Being Dependable is defined as being trustworthy . A
dependable person shows reliability, responsibility, and
c) Focusing on Tasks refers to how well a team member stays
focused on the task at hand and gets work done. It refers to a
team member who is self-directed and does not need other
team members to remind in order to get things done.
d) Sharing Responsibility refers to how good a team member is
at doing their fair share of the work. All team members must
work together to maximize team performance and a team
member’s productivity can be negatively affected if they are
over-burdened with tasks.
e) Performance quality refers to the accuracy or precision of
output . Low quality performance by one individual can
have serious consequences on the team’s product (e.g.
causing the need for extensive rework) and team
effectiveness (e.g. team member frustration).
f) Research and Information Sharing refers to how well a
team member gathers research, shares useful ideas and
defends or rethinks ideas.
g) Communication  is essential to effective teamwork and
involves Questioning, Discussing, and Listening.
Questioning is important to clarify meanings and to
understand the rest of the team members. Discussing ideas is
important to the interchange of information. Team members
also need to listen to each other in order to hear and consider
their team members ideas and develop mutual knowledge.
h) Teamwork is composed of communication, collaboration,
cooperation, and compromise. Good teamwork requires that
team members cooperate with each other, consider others
feelings and needs, and offer to help each other out.
Collaboration refers to working together and sharing
responsibility. Compromise is important so that team
members avoid unnecessary arguing over details that may
cause the team to lose focus on the main objectives.
These activities are common team processes used to achieve
project objectives. In addition to analyzing overall team
performance and satisfaction, we also analyzed the level of impact
SS has on these team processes in order to better understand the
impact that social sensitivity has on team performance.
3. STUDY DESIGN
This study was designed to analyze the relationship between the
SS of student teams and the quality of work in computer science
team projects. We investigate whether the student teams with
higher average SS were positively correlated with their actual
performance on the project as measured by grades. This study also
analyzed the relationship between SS of individual students and
some of the common process activities in teamwork as measured
by averaged scores given to an individual by their teammates.
A randomized experimental design was used in the study in which
participants were tested to determine their SS scores and were
then randomly assigned to teams of three participants each. Each
team worked to complete a major semester-long project on an
ethical issue related to current computer technology in society.
The project consisted of four deliverables: three written
deliverables and one team presentation. Grades were collected for
each deliverable. The team members completed self and peer
evaluations after each of the written deliverables and completed a
post-survey at the end of the project. The details of the study are
provided in the following subsections.
3.1 Study Goals and Hypotheses
The following hypotheses were formulated:
Hypothesis 1: Student teams with higher average social sensitivity
scores perform significantly better on the project.
Hypothesis 2: Students with higher social sensitivity scores are
perceived, by their peers, to perform better on each team process
activity (e.g., brainstorming, dependability, etc.).
Hypothesis 3: Student teams with higher social sensitivity scores
have significantly higher levels of team member satisfaction.
3.2 Independent and Dependent Variables
The experiment manipulated the following independent variable:
a) Social Sensitivity Score: Each student participant completed
the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” test  in order to
determine their individual social sensitivity score.
The following dependent variables were measured:
a) Team Performance: This measure includes the total points
earned by each team—the sum of scores on four project
deliverables submitted throughout the semester.
b) Teamwork Activities: These activities include:
Brainstorming, Dependability, Discussing, Focusing on
Tasks, Listening, Performance, Questioning, Research and
Information Sharing, Sharing Responsibility, and Teamwork.
The measures include the average of the peer evaluation
scores that an individual received from their team members
for each of the ten activities..
c) Team member satisfaction: This measure includes each
individual’s level of satisfaction with their team on the
project at the end of project.
3.3 Participating Subjects
Out of the 98 graduate and undergraduate computer science and
management of information systems students enrolled in the
Social Implications of Computing course, 76 students chose to
participate in the study. The goals of this course are to raise
awareness of real world ethical issues involving computing and to
help the students understand different methods used to
understand, analyze and respond to many of the ethical dilemmas
involving computer technologies. The participating subjects (17
out of 18 females and 59 out of 80 males) worked together in
teams on a project involving a multi-vocal response to an ethical
issue related to the world of computer science and technology.
The major course project consisted of four deliverables: a project
proposal, an interim report, a final report, and a final project
presentation based on computer-related ethical topics. Each team
chose a different ethical issue (such as privacy related to
biometrics or social networking) and met throughout the semester
on their selected topic in order to produce these deliverables. The
main idea was to have each member of the group focus on the
viewpoints of one of the issue’s stakeholders and then, as a group,
discuss the views that these diverse stakeholders may have on the
ethical question. The team was also tasked with tracing the
consequences of alternative actions to their logical conclusions
and then evaluating the impact these actions would have on the
stakeholders. This was done to help the team members gain an
understanding of perspectives other than their own and to produce
artifacts that contained ideas that would not have been articulated
by working independently.
3.5 Experimental Procedure
The study steps are described as follows:
a) Step 1 – Test Subjects for Social Sensitivity: At the
beginning of the semester, the “Reading the Mind in the
Eyes” test  was administered to measure each subject’s
SS. To ensure that the subjects had a clear understanding of
the adjectives used in the test, a glossary was provided that
contained a definition and sample sentence for each of the
emotional state choices. The glossary basis was provided by
the work of Baron-Cohen et al. . The students were
encouraged to read through the glossary prior to the test and
to refer to it as needed during the test. The survey was
administered online, the responses were analyzed for
completeness and individual SS scores were assigned.
b) Step 2 – Forming Student Teams: Thirty-four teams were
formed by randomly assigning three students to each team.
At the end of the semester 32 teams still had three students
each and one team had two students, due to one student
dropping the course.
c) Step 3 – Actualizing Team Projects: The students worked in
teams on specific semester-long projects where each team
produced a project proposal (PP), an interim report (IR), a
final report (FR), and a final presentation (FP). Most groups
chose a topic from a list of ideas provided by the instructor,
although students could pursue any topic that was approved
by the instructor. After the project was approved, the teams
performed the necessary research to write a project proposal.
The proposal required them to articulate ethical questions
that they planned to investigate, justify the questions’
importance, identify major stakeholders and ethical values,
specify their research methods, and plan the project. Half
way through the semester, each team submitted an interim
progress report that described the project goal, objectives,
and scope, research methods, evidence to support ethical
viewpoints, and potential stakeholder actions. Near the
semester’s end, each team gave an oral presentation on their
project and submitted a final written report which
strengthened viewpoints from the interim report, applied
ethical tests to the potential stakeholder actions, and
evaluated the feasibility of these actions.
d) Step 4 – Evaluating Team Projects: Each deliverable was
scored using detailed rubrics to structure the grading. All
grading was done by the same researcher (who was not the
instructor) and all team members received the same score for
each assignment. The team performance (i.e., the total team
score) was measured by summing each team’s score from all
e) Step 5 – Peer-Self Evaluations: After each of the written
deliverables, the student participants completed an evaluation
for themselves and for each of their team members. These
evaluations were performed by each student outside of the
classroom. This allowed for more privacy, decreasing the
chances that fellow students would see how others filled out
the evaluation and allowing the students to be more honest in
the assessment of their teammates. It also allowed the
students more time to fill out the evaluation and be more
thoughtful and complete in their assessments. Each
participant rated the quality of each team member’s
participation (including self participation) on 10 candidate
activities of an effective team as described in Section 2.
Participants rated each of the 10 activities on a 5-point Likert
scale (4 –Excellent, 3 – Good, 2 – Average, 1 – Poor, and 0 –
Fail) and provided comments to justify the ratings.
f) Step 6 – Post-Study Survey: At the end of the semester, a 19
question survey was administered to the students to collect
data regarding the self-perceived effectiveness of each team
including their level of satisfaction, whether members felt
valued, whether effective feedback occurred among team
members among other questions.
3.6 Data Collection and Evaluation Criterion
Because this study investigates the impact of SS on team
performance, only teams that had at least two team members
consenting to participate in the study were included in our
analysis; and only the consenting team member’s SS scores, team
performance scores, and peer evaluations were collected. After
this elimination process, 28 out of 34 teams remained in the study.
Individual student SS test scores for each of the 76 participating
subjects are shown in Figure 1. Most subjects scored in the range
of 19 to 25, with the SS scores ranging from a minimum of 9 to a
maximum of 32 out of a maximum score of 36 correct.
Although both self and peer evaluations were collected for each
consenting participant, only the peer evaluations were used so that
we could understand how a team member is perceived by their
peers. Our reason for only using peer evaluations is that
individuals are less accurate at judging themselves as opposed to
judging their peers . Because evaluations were collected after
each written deliverable (PP, IR, FR), each participant had three
ratings for each teamwork activity from each team. Using the peer
assessment data (not self-assessment data), average scores (on a
scale of 0 to 4) received by each participant for each of the ten
activities (e.g. brainstorming, dependability, etc.) were calculated.
We then analyzed the correlation between the individual SS
scores and the scores the individual received on each activity.
Figure 1. Individual Social Sensitivity Scores
4. DATA ANALYSIS AND RESULTS
This section provides analysis of the quantitative data that
includes student’s SS scores, their team’s project performance,
and their individual peer-rating on each of the ten team activities.
This section is organized around the three hypotheses presented in
Section 3.1. An alpha value of 0.05 was used for all statistical
analysis and r2 value of 0.30 was used for correlations. The
preliminary results on hypothesis 1 have been reported earlier .
This paper details the results for the entire three hypotheses and
combines the results across all hypotheses to draw conclusions.
4.1 Analysis of the Effect of Social Sensitivity
(SS) on Team’s Project Performance
This section analyzes the connection between the student’s SS and
their performance on the team project. Individual SS scores were
combined into one average team SS score. The performance of
each team (i.e., total team score), was calculated by totaling the
scores of the four deliverables. This analysis was performed for
each of the 28 teams.
To test hypothesis 1, we ran a linear regression test to see whether
the average SS scores of a team were positively correlated to the
team’s performance. The results show that the team SS score had
a significant positive correlation with the total team score (p
=0.001; Pearson’s R = 0.383; r2 = 0.16). We also analyzed the
relationship between individual SS scores (shown in Figure 1) and
team performance and found a significant positive correlation (p
=0.009; Pearson’s R = 0.297; r2 = 0.09). Furthermore, we
analyzed whether the team SS scores were correlated with the
team performance on each of the four deliverables. The results
showed that the team SS scores had a strong and significant
positive correlation with their performance on the project proposal
(p=0.004), interim report (p=0.003), and final report (p=0.05).
The result, however, did not show a significant correlation
between teams’ average SS and performance on the final
presentation (p=0.382). Therefore, based on these results, we
show that teams with higher average SS performed significantly
better on their project.
4.2 Analysis of the Effect of Social Sensitivity
(SS) on Performance Activities
Results of the significant correlation between SS and team
performance encouraged us to look deeper into possible
connections between SS and the activities that are often
performed by teams. This section analyzes the connection
between the student’s SS score and their performance on each of
the ten team performance activities.
In order to identify the aspects of the team process that were
positively affected by SS, we analyzed the teammate’s
perceptions of their other team members. As stated previously,
after each written deliverable, the participants evaluated the
individual performance of each team member on 10 common
process activities that could have affected team work. The peer
ratings were averaged across all deliverables for each category
(shown in Figure 2). This procedure was performed for each of
the 76 individuals participating in the study.
Figure 2. Aggregation of Category Rank Data
To test hypothesis 2, we ran bivariate correlation analysis tests to
see whether the individual SS scores were positively correlated
with each of the averaged rankings of the individual performance
of each activity.
Overall, the results show a significant positive correlation with
eight of the ten performance activities. The correlations between
individual SS and each of the other team performance activities
are shown in Figure 3 and our major observations are summarized
a) Of all ten process activities, performance had the most
significant correlation indicating that people with higher
individual SS were perceived as producing high quality
b) The other individual process activities that showed a
significant positive correlation with SS included
brainstorming, dependability, discussing, focusing on
tasks, sharing responsibility, and teamwork. These
results are reflected on in Section 6.
c) The results did not show a significant correlation
between individual SS and either questioning (p =0.390;
Pearson’s R = 0.588; r2 = 0.35) or listening (p=0.346) (p
=0.346; Pearson’s R = 0.674; r2 = 0.45). This means that
team members were perceived as being equally good or
bad at questioning and listening, regardless of an
individual’s level of SS.
Figure 3. Correlation between Individual Social Sensitivity
and Team Performance Activities
4.3 Effect of SS on Team Member Satisfaction
Although task performance effectiveness is obviously important
to overall team effectiveness, researchers also recognize the
importance of team member satisfaction to team effectiveness.
We wanted to determine what type of correlation, if any, there
was between a team’s average SS and team member satisfaction
with their other team members.
The students were asked to rank how satisfied they were with
their team members (Step 6) on a 5-point Likert scale. To test
hypothesis 3, we ran a linear regression test to see whether the
average SS scores of a team were positively correlated to the how
satisfied team members were with the other members of the team.
The results showed that the team SS scores had a strong and
significant positive correlation with the satisfaction with
individual team members within the teams (p =0.028; Pearson’s R
= 0.679; r2 = 0.46). In other words, the higher the level of the
average team SS, the more team members were satisfied with
their other team members. There was not a significant correlation
between individual SS and team member satisfaction. This
implies that having a higher SS score does not mean that you are
more satisfied with your team members; however, the fact that
teams with higher average SS are more satisfied means that these
teams are more likely to participate and continue to work together
in the future.
5. THREAT TO VALIDITY
Although the results of this study are encouraging, there are
certain threats to its validity. One threat is language proficiency.
Approximately fifty percent of the students in the course are
international students. Even though each of these students had
passed an English proficiency exam, some may have struggled
with the language. To improve construct validity in the “Reading
the Mind in the Eyes” test, a glossary was provided that contained
a definition and sample sentence for each of the word selection
choices used in the test. Students were encouraged to read through
the glossary before they took the test and refer to it as necessary
during the test. However, because the students were not
supervised while taking the test, we do not know how extensively
the glossary was used. Feedback from students suggests that some
groups struggled with language barriers during the semester as
well, which could be a confounding factor and hinder success.
Another threat relates to the peer evaluations and perceived
pressure for conformity. Although the peer evaluations were
performed outside of the classroom to reduce the pressure the
students may feel by possibly having their evaluations viewed by
other students, some students could have still felt the need to give
favorable ratings to their team members, whether these ratings
were warranted or not.
6. DISCUSSION OF RESULTS
Our fundamental finding is that SS is a good predictor of team
performance in carrying out major student team projects with
complex tasks and multiple deliverables over long periods of time.
This extends previous research that showed that SS had high
impact on teams accomplishing well defined, short-term,
relatively simple tasks. Task complexity is an important factor in
team performance because the difficulty of tasks can impact the
success of the team . Complex tasks within large projects
have many opportunities for errors and they can be hard to
identify. Stressful environments can easily be created by these
types of projects and can hinder team performance (e.g. impair
decision making, decrease speed and accuracy of task
performance) by adversely affecting team coordination and ability
to engage in team activities. These difficulties can ultimately
discourage a team. The effects of project duration on team
performance comes into play as team members become more
intertwined and interdependent, the impact of one member’s lapse
can disrupt the entire team’s performance.
Another interesting finding in our study is that the study supports
Baron-Cohen’s assertion that engineers, mathematicians,
physicists, and computer scientists are, generally, less socially
sensitive. All participants in our survey are majoring in scientific
or technical disciplines and their mean SS score of 22.59 was
lower than the original general population sample mean SS score
of 26.2 of Baron-Cohen et al . This suggests that these
students find it more difficult to perceive and understand the
feelings and viewpoints of others. An awareness of this can help
educators better recognize possible reasons behind team
difficulties and help students focus on techniques for managing
that social deficit.
Not only do our findings speak to the importance of SS on the
effectiveness of team performance, we also found that SS is
generally a good predictor of the effectiveness of team process
performance activities (e.g. brainstorming, dependability,
focusing on tasks, sharing responsibility, performance, research
and information sharing, questioning, discussing, listening, and
Social sensitivity was positively correlated with the brainstorming
activity. As described above, it is well established  that a
socially sensitive person’s tendency to be a flexible thinker and
their general ability to perceive, empathize, and appropriately
respond to team members may aid in brainstorming. We speculate
that by creating a positive climate in which team members
experience greater satisfaction, more positive emotions, and lower
stress most likely aid in creative thinking and enable flexibility in
arriving at alternatives to problems.
Socially sensitive individuals were also seen as more dependable.
If a team member is not dependable, they place a burden on the
other team members to make up for the missing production of the
undependable team member which can adversely affect the team’s
effectiveness and team member satisfaction [41, 42]. We also
speculate that a socially sensitive individuals ability to admit
mistakes, accept others for who they are, to think before speaking,
to make measured and fair judgments, to be frank and honest with
others, being warm, caring and good at dealing with others [26,
65. 66] aid in being considered trustworthy and dependable.
Peers also viewed socially sensitive individuals as very self-
directed and responsible in sharing the work load. Avery et al.
 state that taking responsibility for one’s own work on a team
is one of the most important factors in ensuring a productive team
Socially sensitive individuals were also seen as producing high
quality work, were very good at sharing ideas and information as
well as discussing issues and interacting respectfully with others,
and excelled at consistently collaborating, cooperating and
compromising as necessary to meet goals. This could be because
socially sensitive people can recognize and take actions that
demonstrate consideration for the feelings and needs of others.
This sensitivity promotes cooperation. Cooperation can enhance
communication and information sharing. Also, this ability to
recognize emotions and use this as feedback may also allow them
to recognize problems before they evolve into larger problems and
also use this emotional information to improve team processes.
Researchers have found that high performing teams are interactive
groups that share information to build high levels of trust and
responsibility. This is important to overall knowledge integration
and team satisfaction . Social sensitivity can play a positive
role in increasing information sharing and building trust within
Not only did we find that SS is a good predictor of the
effectiveness of team performance (task) effectiveness (one of the
two elements of overall team effectiveness), but we also found
that SS is a good predictor of team member satisfaction (part of
the other element of overall team effectiveness. These findings
provide compelling insights into the significance that SS plays in
overall team effectiveness and thus shows that SS is an asset for a
7. CONCLUSION AND FUTURE WORK
Our results establish that both task performance effectiveness and
affective measures of a team are positively correlated with the SS
of members. This is valuable knowledge for managers and
educators. Although we recognize that teams need members with
the correct skill set and knowledge, by using SS as an additional
input, more effective teams can be composed.
Using quantitative data related to work in teams, our work
demonstrates correlations between SS and performance on team
processes. These correlations tempt us to assert that high SS
causes high performance. We expect that our future work with
qualitative analysis will support this connection. We know that
some groups faced interpersonal challenges and we plan to
investigate whether such challenges were better-overcome in
teams with socially-sensitive individuals.
Assuming that SS is a contributing factor rather than simply
correlated with team success, then this type of research raises
many exciting questions of interest to people across academia.
How much SS is needed for success? Can just one socially
sensitive team member make a difference? Can SS be learned?
Authors such as Anthony Mersino have published techniques for
improving emotional intelligence . If these techniques can be
effectively applied to improve SS, then team performance can also
be improved. In any case, it is our hope that a greater
understanding of SS will result in better learning experiences in
the college classroom and better productivity of software
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