What Is Social Facilitation?

Social Facilitation

What Is Social Facilitation?

  • Social facilitation refers to the finding that people sometimes showan increased level of effort as a result of the real, imagined, or implied presence of others.
  • The concept was first identified by Norman Triplett in 1898, when he noticed that cyclist’s performance was facilitated (helped) when training as a group.
  • Psychologist Floyd Allport labeled it social facilitation in 1920.
  • There are two types of social facilitation: co-action effects and audience effect.
  • Subsequent researchers found that performance improved as a result of the presence of others (social facilitation) whilst others found that it was impaired (social inhibition).
  • Whether or not social facilitation occurs depends on the type of task: people tend to experience social facilitation when they arefamiliar with a task or for well-learned skills. However, social inhibition (decreased performance in the presence of others) occurs for difficult or novel tasks.

Social facilitation is an improvement in the performance of a task in the presence of others (audience, competitor, co-actor) compared to their performance when alone.

History and Origins

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:

Co-action effects: A co-action effect refers to a phenomenon whereby increased task performance comes about by the mere presence of others doing the same task.

An example would be running a 100 meter sprint against someone.

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.

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.

Dashiell (1935) found that the presence of an audience facilitated subjects' multiplication performance by increasing the number of simple multiplications completed.

Auidence effects: An audience effect refers to a type of social facilitation in which an individual's performance is influenced by the presence of others (an audience), which causes an individual's dominant response to occur.

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 (Pessin, 1933).

What sorts of behaviors are improved by the presence of others and what sorts impaired?

Whether or not social facilitation occurs depends on the type of task: people tend to experience social facilitation when they are familiar with a task or for well-learned skills.

However, social inhibition (decreased performance in the presence of others) occurs for difficult or novel tasks.

Social facilitation is thought to involve three factors:

Distraction Conflict (Barron, 1986) theory of social facilitation suggests that rather than the mere presence of others, it is the conflict between giving attention to a person and giving attention to a task which affects performance.

This attention conflict motivates a person to pay more attention to the task and therefore will increase performance for simple well-learned tasks.

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 evaluation anxiety.

We are aroused by audiences because we have learned that they evaluate our performance, they are not merely passive spectators, we believe.

Such performance evaluation apprehension enhances drive/arousal

According to Zajonc, behavior that is either instinctive or very well-learned/ highly practiced is improved whereas behavior that is novel or complex is impaired.

Zajonc's (1966) fundamental claim is that «an audience impairs the acquisition of new responses and facilitates the emission of well learned responses».

His crucial theoretical contribution was that the presence of others enhances the emission of dominant responses.

Zajonc's explanation is based upon Clark Hull's theory of motivation which states that a high level of arousal/drive will result in what is now called stress and will produce habitual behaviors (which are often incorrect).

The presence of others adds to arousal and when combined with the arousal arising from a difficult or unfamiliar task results in stress and consequent poor performance.

The extra arousal contributed by the presence of others takes us past our optimum level of arousal and result in the dominant response being something we can do easily, not something which is new or demanding. This is supported by the Yerkes-Dodson theory of optimal arousal

A dominant response is simply the response that is most ly to occur in the presence of the given array of stimuli.

If a task is easy for the person, then the dominant response will be the correct one (i.e. most ly) and so the audience/co-actor helps elicit this.

In a difficult task, the dominant response is the incorrect one(s) (i.e. the most ly again) and so the audience/co-actor helps elicit this.

Social Facilitation and Social Loafing

However, there are instances where the presence of others has the opposite effect. That is, sometimes we don’t work as hard in the presence of others as we do when we are alone, especially if our behavior is not under surveillance. This phenomenon is known as social loafing.

APA Style References

Baron, R. S. (1986). Distraction-conflict theory: Progress and problems. In Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 19, pp. 1-40). Academic Press.

Chen, S. C. (1937). The leaders and followers among the ants in nest-building. Physiological Zoology, 10(4), 437-455.

Cottrell, N. B., Wack, D. L., Sekerak, G. J., & Rittle, R. H. (1968). Social facilitation of dominant responses by the presence of an audience and the mere presence of others. Journal of personality and social psychology, 9(3), 245.

Dashiell, J. F. (1935). Experimental studies of the influence of social situations on the behavior of individual human adults.

Pessin, J. (1933). The comparative effects of social and mechanical stimulation on memorizing. The American Journal of Psychology, 45(2), 263-270.

PLATT, J. J., YAKSH, T., & DARBY, C. L. (1967). Social facilitation of eating behavior in armadillos. Psychological Reports, 20(3c), 1136-1136.

Travis, L. E. (1925). The effect of a small audience upon eye-hand coordination. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 20(2), 142.

Triplett, N. (1898). The dynamogenic factors in pacemaking and competition. The American journal of psychology, 9(4), 507-533.

Zajonc, R. B., & Sales, S. M. (1966). Social facilitation of dominant and subordinate responses. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2(2), 160-168.

How to reference this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2011, October 24). Social facilitation. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/Social-Facilitation.html

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Источник: https://www.simplypsychology.org/Social-Facilitation.html

Social Facilitation Theory

What Is Social Facilitation?

The idea of Social Facilitation Theory can be best understood as the tendency of people to perform better when they are being watched or when they are competing with others doing the same task. This is called Social Facilitation.


A cyclist is more ly to perform better when competing with other cyclists in comparison to if they were simply pedaling against a clock in a practice run.

The theory also states that people are most ly to make errors when they are asked to do tasks they are not familiar with in the presence of observers or competitors. This is called  Social Inhibition.

Example :

An individual performs with more caution and is prone to making errors while doing a driving test in front of an instructor due to nervousness or self doubt.

Norman Triplett

The concept of Social Facilitation Theory was first introduced in 1898 by Norman Triplett when he noticed cyclists performed better competing with other cyclists. (See: Example 1).

He then took this experiment to a laboratory when he provided some children with some strings and asked them to wind up a fishing line. As predicted, children performed faster while in presence of other children winding up of a fishing line compared to when they were working alone.

Floyd Allport

It was Allport who coined the term Social Facilitation in 1924. Allport conducted various experiments placing the participants either alone or in groups. And majority of the experiments showed that people in groups performed better than those placed alone.

However, at this point in time, Social Facilitation was still limited and was simply understood as “increase in response merely from the sight or sound of others making the same movement.

Robert Zajonc

It was Robert Zajonc who provided the missing piece of the puzzle. In 1956, Zajonc conducted studies to figure out why some people performed better in the presence of others while others’ performance hindered.

His experiments can be simplified into two parts, where he studied people performing simple vs complex task in front of other people.

The results were pretty clear and it was found that people performing simple task where they’ve had a lot of practice were able to perform better as opposed to people performing more complex tasks (they were not familiar with) or had little practice at).

Thus, the theory of Social Inhibition was born.

Activation Theory

In 1965 Zajonc proposed his generalized drive hypothesis for social facilitation as the stern Activation theory, which is also referred to as Zajonc theory.

The generalized drive hypothesis was the first theory that addressed both increase and decrease in performance of people in the presence of others.

Zajonc argued that presence of others heightens arousal and thus increases an organism’s ability to perform habitual/well-learned tasks. On the contrary, heightened awareness acts as a flaw when performing complex/unfamiliar tasks.

This theory was Yerkes-Dodson’s law, which holds that performance works an inverse “U” function. Meaning, optimal drive level is higher for easy tasks and lower for complex tasks.

Different Activation Theories include:

Alertness hypothesis

This theory states that performer is unaware of how observers and competitors act, which heightens their alertness, thus leading them to perform better.

Monitoring hypothesis

This theory states that when the performer is familiar with how the observer will respond social facilitation will not occur. Instead the performer feels pressured and is not able to perform well.

Challenge and Threat hypothesis

This hypothesis states that people’s bad performance on complex tasks and better performance on simpler tasks in others’ presence is due to the cardiovascular response to the task.

When performing a simple task in front of others, the performer has a normal cardiovascular response resulting in better performance.

On the other hand, performing complex task in others’ presents creates the cardiovascular response similar to that of a person in threatened position, which has a negative impact on the performance.

Why is Social Facilitation Theory Important to know?

Social Facilitation Theory offers a new perspective in understanding motivation. In a normal scenario, we simply interpret one’s performance his/her abilities.

However, understanding social facilitation theory means we understand the positive or negative effect the presence of other people has on the performer.

Another quick way of understanding this is that the performance of any individual depends on how good he perceives himself/herself to be when being evaluated.

Another important phenomenon to understand in the context of social psychology, along with Social Facilitation effect and Social Inhibition is Social Loafing.

“Social loafing is the phenomenon of a person exerting less effort to achieve a goal when they work in a group than when they work alone.” – Wikipedia.

Источник: https://www.psychestudy.com/social/social-facilitation-theory

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