Definition and Origins of Social Facilitation

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The theory of social facilitation holds that people perform better when they are in the presence of others, such as a coworker or an audience. This phenomenon is caused in part by the fact that if another person is evaluating them, they may experience anxiety or fear, which can increase their motivation.


What Is Social Facilitation?

Social facilitation is a psychological theory that suggests people are more productive or perform better when they are in the company of others. This includes both the physical presence of others in the workplace and the implied, imagined, or digital presence of others. Social facilitation is also classified as coaction effects (when two people working on the same task collaborate as co-actors) and audience effects (when a person completes a task in front of others or an audience).

The inverse of social facilitation is social loafing, which occurs when the presence of an audience or another person causes a person to lose focus or makes a task more difficult.


Origin of the Term Social Facilitation

In 1898, Norman Triplett investigated the theory of social facilitation and discovered that cyclists performed better when competing against others rather than simply trying to beat their own time. Later, Triplett expanded on his social facilitation research by conducting an experiment in which he had children perform a simple task with a fishing reel. He discovered that when working with others, half of the children worked faster, while the other half worked slower or equally. He called this effect drive theory after publishing the findings, titled "The Dynamogenic Factors in Pacemaking and Competition," in The American Journal of Psychology.

Floyd Allport, a psychologist, coined the term "stress-induced performance enhancement of social interactions activation theory" in 1920. In the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 1966, social psychologists Robert Zajonc and Stephen Sales proposed their dominant response theory. They discovered that social facilitation improved performance for simple tasks that people are familiar with but degraded performance for complex tasks.


Contributing Factors to Social Facilitation

There are three major factors that contribute to social facilitation:

1. Affective: The presence of another person causes anxiety and apprehension as they perform the task. These influencing factors stimulate motivation to perform better and receive a better evaluation.

2. Cognitive: The mere presence of others can aid in task focus and prevent distraction. Social facilitation can improve focus on task performance for some people while being a distraction for others.

3. Physiological: Working with an audience or a partner can raise your arousal level and motivate you to perform well. Physical arousal from social facilitation can make difficult tasks appear easy.


Approaches to Social Facilitation

Many psychologists have continued to investigate the effects of social facilitation. Many theories and approaches investigate the effects of social facilitation, including:

Evaluation apprehension hypothesis: This theory, also known as the evaluation approach, contends that it is the evaluation or judgment of our peers in social situations that leads to an improvement in performance.

Distraction-conflict theory: According to Robert Baron's distraction-conflict theory, in social situations, a person must choose between paying attention to a person and paying attention to a task. This conflict actually improves individual task performance.

Self-presentation approach: According to the self-presentation approach, people become concerned with how they appear in front of an audience; they want to appear competent. In 1983, Charles Bond and Linda Titus published "Social Facilitation: A Meta-analysis of 241 Studies" in the Psychological Bulletin.

Yerkes–Dodson law: According to the Yerkes-Dodson law, a person's performance on a task while in the presence of others depends on whether the task is simple or complex.

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