Answered Essay: How do the phenomena of social facilitation and social loafing influence the performance of

How do the phenomena of social facilitation and social loafing influence the performance of individuals in group settings? What steps may be taken to mitigate social loafing?

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Social Facilitation-

Evaluation Apprehension – Being evaluated is arousing, and the presence of others implies potential evaluation. – If you can make such that others are present but clearly can’t evaluate, social facilitation should disappear. •

Distraction-Conflict – The presence of others is distracting, and being distracted from a task is arousing. Thus, either distraction alone (non-social) should be sufficient to cause so-called “social” facilitation.


Social facilitation can be defined as ‘an improvement in performance produced by the mere presence of others’. There are two types of social facilitation: co-action effects and audience effect.

Studies on social facilitation concern the extent to which a given piece of an individual’s behavior is affected by the real, imagined or implied presence of others.

Perhaps the first social psychology laboratory experiment was undertaken in this area by Norman Triplett in 1898.

In his research on the speed records of cyclists, he noticed that racing against each other rather than against the clock alone increased the cyclists’ speeds. He attempted to duplicate this under laboratory conditions using children and fishing reels.

There were two conditions: the child alone and children in pairs but working alone. Their task was to wind in a given amount of fishing line and Triplett reports that many children worked faster in the presence of a partner doing the same task.

Triplett’s experiments demonstrate the co-action effect, a phenomenon whereby increased task performance comes about by the mere presence of others doing the same task.

The co-action effect may come into operation if you find that you work well in a library in preference to working at home where it is equally quiet (and so on). Other co-action effect studies include Chen (1937) who observed that worker ants will dig more than three times as much sand per ant when working (non-co-operatively) alongside other ants than when working alone and Platt, Yaksh and Darby (1967) found that animals will eat more of their food if there are others of their species present.

Social facilitation occurs not only in the presence of a co-actor but also in the presence of a passive spectator/audience. This is known as the audience effect, surprisingly.

Dashiell (1935) found that the presence of an audience facilitated subjects’ multiplication performance by increasing the number of simple multiplications completed. Travis (1925) found that well-trained subjects were better at a psychomotor task (pursuit rotor) in front of spectators. However, Pessin (1933) found an opposite audience effect, namely that subjects needed fewer trials at learning a list of nonsense words when on their own than when in front of an audience.

It seems, then, that the extent of social facilitation or inhibition depends upon the nature of the interaction between the task and the performer. In some cases the presence of co-actors/audience improved the quality of performance (Dashiell 1935) but in others it impaired the quality (though it increased the quantity of, say, multiplications).

According to Cottrell (1968), it’s not the presence of other people that is important for social facilitation to occur but the apprehension about being evaluated by them. We know that approval and disapproval are often dependent on others’ evaluations and so the presence of others triggers an acquired arousal drive based on evaluation anxiety.

Social Loafing-

Trying less hard when working collectively than when working coactively (or individually)

Effects of Social Loafing-

It is the tendency for people to exert less effort to achieve a goal when they are in a group. This goes against the adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I’m sure you can think about school groups that you’ve been a part of that demonstrate social loafing. Certain members of the group would sit back and watch while other members did the majority of the work.

A well-known study on social loafing involved a simple rope-pulling experiment. The participants were asked to pull on a rope much like you would in a game of tug-of-war. First the participants tugged on a rope by themselves, then in a group. The study showed that the participants tended to exert less effort when pulling the rope in a group than when they were asked to pull the rope by themselves.

Social loafing is quite common and can be found in many situations. Why? Research shows that individuals often feel like their contributions don’t matter, and therefore, they decrease their effort and contributions. Voting in the U.S. is a good example. Most citizens agree that voting is important. However, every year, a very small percentage of Americans participate in voting and elections. One vote can feel insignificant in such a massive population, so people may not think it is worth it to vote. The high number of people that feel this way is one of the reasons voting turnout is so low. The free-rider effect refers to the tendency of people to reduce their efforts when they believe that it will not affect the final performance of the group whatsoever. Another well-known social loafing study showed that people tend to clap and cheer much quieter when in a group. The majority of an audience claps loud enough to cover the lack of effort.

Two other common reasons given for social loafing are the ‘sucker effect’ and the ‘free-rider effect.’ The sucker effect refers to the tendency of people to try and avoid feeling like a ‘sucker’ by waiting to see how much effort others will put into a group first. These are people who often feel that the other group members will leave them to do all the work. The school group that we discussed earlier is a good example of this. If all the group members try to avoid being the sucker, then each person’s effort will be significantly diminished.

Mitigation of Social Loafing-

1. Keep the team small. When teams grow beyond three to five members, the potential for social loafing is high. If there is a good reason for allowing the group to expand beyond these parameters (such as a significant workload coupled with an extreme deadline), break the team into sub-groups of no more than three members per group. Assign each sub-group a specific theme that can be broken up by task between the individual members. This strategy will help you get the same result as if you had simply limited the original group to three to five members. The goal is to discourage individual assignments from becoming fungible—and people from not fully participating (because the others won’t notice) or doing less work because their efforts are being duplicated elsewhere.

2. Develop the rules of engagement. If you set ground rules for group conduct at the outset, you’ll get less push back. Buy-in is essential when individuals are working so closely together and need to be cohesive to achieve a desired result. Think about the importance of deadlines, accountability and deliverables to your project. How do these factors bring you closer to the desired result? Make sure that the parameters are communicated early and often. Then make sure that they are enforced. If the team thinks that you’re just bluffing, they’ll undermine your authority and you’ll lose credibility.

3. Assign separate and distinct contributions for every team member. One surefire way to make certain that tasks do not become fungible is to make assignments that are separate and distinct. If you assign tasks in this way, no one can rely on another team member to pick up the slack. Each person will have to pull their own weight, which is exactly the point. The best way to create mutually exclusive tasks is to classify project components into specific buckets. For example: financial, communication, technology, oversight and R&D. Not only will this solve the social loafing issue, but it also helps the team to create a clear roadmap for results and assure that no critical aspect has been ignored.

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