Being “smart” may lie more in our social networks and how well we’re able to imitate our available mentors, rather than our individual levels of intelligence, a new study out of the University of British Columbia found. Our ability to imitate a larger amount of skilled experts rather than a limited amount can help groups and societies thrive, the researchers concluded.

“This is the first study to demonstrate in a laboratory setting what archeologists and evolutionary theorists have long suggested: that there is an important link between a society’s sociality and the sophistication of its technology,” Michael Muthukrishna, a PhD student at the University of British Columbia who authored the study, said in a press release.

The participants of the study were required to learn two new skills, digital photo editing and knot-tying. They were then asked to teach what they learned to the next “generation” of participants. Some groups had better access to experts on these topics, and were able to accumulate more skill than those who had less access to mentors. After ten “generation” cycles, each member in the group that had several teachers had higher skills than members in the group that only had one mentor.

The authors note that the results of their study “support theoretical predictions linking sociality to cumulative cultural evolution.” Archaeologists have long been studying how societies thrive overall and how social networks affect intelligence, and the researchers drew on such foundational evidence in the study, noting that the results "support theoretical predictions linking sociality to cumulative cultural evolution." In their abstract, the researchers continue, “[S]everal evolutionary models predict that both the size and social interconnectedness of populations can contribute to the complexity of its cultural repertoire. Some models also predict that a sudden loss of sociality or of population will result in subsequent losses of useful skills/technologies.”

Some scientists divide intelligence into two types – crystallized and fluid. Crystallized intelligence is what we learn over years of accumulating knowledge and experience, while the latter is more of the type of smarts people are supposedly “born with,” that involves abstract thinking and thinking outside of the box. Andrea Kuszewski, a behavior therapist and researcher with METODO Social Sciences Institute, writes in Scientific American that intelligence can actually be improved, and IQ scores boosted, through repeated training. She also believes that networking plays a huge role in helping your brain: “By networking with other people—either through social media such as Facebook or Twitter, or in face-to-face interactions—you are…exposing yourself to new people, ideas, and environments, you are opening yourself up to new opportunities for cognitive growth.” She notes that meeting and working with people outside of your field gives you a chance to approach problems from different angles.

“Learning is all about exposing yourself to new things and taking in that information in ways that are meaningful and unique—networking with other people is a great way to make that happen,” Kuszewski writes.