Social Facilitation

Stages of Team Development
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Devayani Vyavaharkar
Student (University), India

Social Facilitation

🔥NEW Imagine that you are a newly appointed trainee at a firm, and your boss tells you to make a four-slide presentation, based on your area of research during your study (an 'easy task'). In this situation, according to the social facilitation theory, you are more likely to rehearse the key points well, meticulously paying attention to every detail if people are watching you. However, after the presentation, if attendees start asking questions that are not related to your area of expertise (a 'complex task'), you will be prone to stress, anxiety, and committing mistakes.

What is Social Facilitation? Definition

The term "Social Facilitation" was coined by Norman Triplett in 1898. Social facilitation can be defined as the tendency for individuals to perform differently when in the mere presence of others (either as audience or as co-actors). More specifically, individuals tend to perform better on easy or well-rehearsed tasks and worse on complex tasks or new ones. The presence of others can either be real, implied, or even imagined. The two types of social facilitation are as follows:
  • Audience effect: This refers to an individual's performance being better while doing a task in front of an audience. For example, the audience effect plays a crucial role in boosting the morale of footballers in a match. With the audience loudly cheering the team or player's name, a player is more likely to be focused and motivated to play well.
  • Co-action effects: This refers to an individual's performance being better in a specific task just because other people are doing the same task. For example: During a track and field race (=athletics competition), co-action effects lead to a competitive atmosphere among athletes, which results in individual athletes performing better as compared to when they might do the same race alone.

Influencing Factors of Social Facilitation

  • In case a task is complicated or challenging, social facilitation is less likely to occur. Instead, it leads to social inhibition, i.e., the tendency to perform tasks poorly or slowly in the presence of others.
  • The type of audience that is present also has an impact on an individual's performance level, for example, a supportive crowd v/s a hostile crowd.
  • This also means that people who are more confident or perceive social situations and public speaking more favorably tend to reflect an enhancement in their performance, despite the nature of the task at hand, as compared to those who fear public speaking or have a low self-esteem.

Applications of Social Facilitation

  • (Online) Auctions: Based on a study of Dutch auctions, it was seen that due to the occurrence of social facilitation, participants gave higher biddings and stayed longer in the auctions due to the presence of a (virtual) audience.
  • Consumer Behaviour: Social facilitation has an impact on shopping behaviours. Shoppers accompanied by others spend more time in stores and tend to purchase more than those shopping alone.
  • Decision making: Based on social facilitation effect, it has been observed that the time taken to reach a decision increases and the accuracy of decision-making decreases in the mere presence of others when the decision-making task is difficult. However, the reverse effect can be seen in case the decision-making task is easy.
  • Workplace: When supervisors monitor their workers' performance, experienced workers show an increase in their performance level, whereas new employees and interns (who haven't mastered the skills yet) tend to show a decrease in their levels of performance.
Very often, we tend to interpret people's performance based on their abilities. If an individual is not able to perform well on a given task, we assume that he/she is not good at it or is not taking the required efforts. Knowing about social facilitation provides an additional insight into their motivation. Motivation tends to be high on jobs we are good at, especially when others are observing us. As a consequence, we tend to get positive feedback. However, due to our perceived fear of making mistakes, our motivation is lower while performing difficult tasks. It can lead us to receive negative feedback and comments.
Thus, the bottom line is that sometimes, working in the presence of an audience or along with others may boost one's performance and sometimes it might hinder it (depending on one's skills and complexity of the task).

⇒ Can you think of any other areas or perhaps a funny anecdote where social facilitation played a prominent role? Please comment below!

Triplett, N. (1898). The dynamogenic factors in pacemaking and competition. The American Journal of Psychology, 9(4), 507-533.
Branscombe, N. R., & Baron, R. A. (2017). Social Psychology, Global Edition. Harlow, United Kingdom: Pearson.
Cuncic, A. (2020). How Social Facilitation Can Improve Your Performance, Verywellmind.

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