Social Facilitation (A Comprehensive Guide)

Social Facilitation

Social facilitation is referred to as how the performance is improved by only the presence of other people. Social facilitation is of two types. One is audience effect and other one is co-action effects. An experiment conducted on Triplett has shown the co-action effect. This is a phenomenon by which an increased performance in a task is achieved only by the presence of other people who are performing the same task. This phenomenon can be easily understood if a person comes to know that he is able to do his work well at a library where other people are also present as compared to staying at home working there where there is an equal amount of quietness. In this article we will discuss social facilitation. 

Social Facilitation (A Comprehensive Guide)

History of Social Facilitation

The co-action effects were also studied by Chen in 1937. Chen had observed that working ants can dig three times more than the sand per ants when they are working non-cooperatively with other ants as compared to when they are working without other ants.  In 1967, Yaksh, Platt and Darby showed that animals who are with others of their species present will be able to eat more food. Social facilitation does not only occur alongside the others but it also takes place when a passive audience or a spectator is present there. This refers to the audience effect. In 1935, Dashiell observed that when a facilitating subject is present in a task it multiplies the performance by expanding the strength of simple multiplications completed. In 1925, Travis, observed that while performing in front of the spectators those who were trained people performed a psychomotor task. But, in 1933, Pessin observed an entirely opposing audience effect, saying that subjects were required to rehearse to learn about a number of rubbish words when they are on their own as compared to then they are in front of the spectator. In 1968, Cottrel stated that it is not the existence of others which is vital in social facilitation to happen but a nervousness of getting judged by those people. It is an obvious fact that approvals and disapprovals both depend on the evaluation of other people and so the existence of other people sets of a received arousal drive based on evaluation anxiety.

Example of Social Facilitation

How social facilitation works can be easily understood by an example which is likely to be fit in real life. Take an example of a musician how his performance can get affected by the presence of the audience. A prominent singer who has bagged a lot of prestigious awards can feel energetic when there is a large number of audiences present and can present a live performance which is much better than practicing alone in the studio. But, a person who is in his initial phases of learning to play an instrument is likely to get distracted or anxious by thinking about how it would feel to perform in front of an audience and can make blunders which they did not make while practicing at home or at a studio. 

History and Background of Social Facilitation

An article “The Dynamogenic Factors in Pacemaking and Competitions” written by Norman Triplett in 1898 was the first one documented study in social psychology. This article explained the observational data of professional cyclists. This article also explained an experimental study about at how much speed a child can be able to spin a fishing reel. Triplett showed that those cyclists who are in pair with other counterparts showed the faster racing time as compared to the cyclists who were racing against the clock. The other section was experimental in which a child was told to spin a fishing reel with as much force as he can possibly put in it to quickly move it to move a figure with a racecourse either along with other children or he can do it alone. The child who was in with other children was able to spin the fishing reel faster as compared to those who were spinning the fishing reel alone. We can derive a conclusion from these findings that the performance is improved in the presence of others, especially coating with others. 

Robert Zajonc in the mid of 1960 came up with an article on social facilitation that put these inconsistent findings to an order. He states that the existence of other people in tasks can improve or impair performance. And it depends upon the nature of the task which is being performed. When the performer has learnt his task well the co actors or the observers are able to facilitate the performance. However, when the task was not well learnt the performance can be inhibited by the presence of other people. He further stated that an arousal or a dive component is the reason behind these differences in performance. The drive theory states that the existence of other people created a drive or an unvarying arousal which resulted in the increase of possibility of a dominant response. This response is whatever response is probably in the same situation. In an easy task or a task which is well learnt the assertive response will be the right answer. In a complex task or a task which is not well learnt the assertive response will probably be the wrong answer. This distinction made by Zajonc elaborated the conflicts in social facilitation and reason why the tasks in which fluid and well established responses were seen to be improved by the existence of the co actor or audience but those tasks were impaired which required complex problem solving skills. 

Social Facilitation (A Comprehensive Guide)

Why Is Performance Improved or Impaired?

The claims of social psychologists are strongly supported by the meta-analysis that all the effects on performance are powerful. The question that why these effects occur in performance are not addressed by the demonstration of social facilitation. Through which process the performance is improved or impaired. Three main reasons have been put forward by the social psychologists to explain the impairment or facilitation effects. 

These reasons can be named as cognitive, physiological and effective mechanisms. The cognitive explanation is more focused on distractions and attention. The physiological explanation discussed the arousal and generalized drive and effective mechanism is more focused on anxiety and the presentation factors about giving performance in the presence of other people. 

Physiological Mechanisms

This mechanism has been supported by using different methodological methods.Social psychologists observed the speed of running of joggers, in a naturalistic setting. And these joggers were being filmed without any obstruction during their rounds on a footpath. The presence of others was manipulated by the researchers by utilizing three conditions. First one is only the presence, second is evaluative and lastly the conditions. These conditions were operationalized by the researchers through a female associate placed with a strategy alongside the footpath. The female associate was sitting with her back towards the runner as the runner started running around the footpath, this is mere presence. The female colleague was sitting with her face towards the runner, this is evaluation and the female associate was not there this is alone. When the female confederate was facing the runner, he was in evaluative condition and in this condition his running speed significantly increased which shows that support for the drive aspect of facilitation has its effects.

Cognitive Mechanisms

The distractions theory has best articulated the evidence for cognitive mechanisms underlying social facilitation effects. This theory states that distractions create cognitive overload and the distractions are formed by the presence of other people around. This eventually produces various effects in simple versus difficult works. Performance is enhanced in the tasks which are simple to perform as attentional focus on the presence of others eventually screen outs unimportant stimuli which leads toward enhanced performance. The performance is impaired in complex tasks because these tasks need to attend to a wide range of stimuli cues.

Social Facilitation (A Comprehensive Guide)

Affective Mechanisms

The last explanation related to the effects on social facilitation is effective mechanism. This mechanism is focused about the effective responses which are associated with evaluation when there are other people around. The emphasis of this explanation is mainly on the significance of concerns of self presentation while giving performance in the presence of other people. The researchers have stated that one essential and important result of the presence of audience or co actors is that behaviors of the performers are shaped by the help of their presence and also stresses the significance of avoiding a bad impression or making a good impression. It is done to an extent at which the performer feels that he is able to positively self present while other people observe him, which he would most probably be believing if the task is well learnt or even simple. Then the presence of other people will facilitate the performance. On the either side, if the task is not well learnt or is complex, the performer can expect himself to not perform well. This apprehension and anxiety is confederated with delivering a good performance which may surprisingly be able to negatively impact the performance.

Implications of Social Facilitation

Changes in both physical and cognitive performance domains are predicted by the social facilitation unlike to their contemporary other psychological theories.The educational settings,sports psychology, organizational behavior and other fields are the areas where these findings are considered relevant and applicable. The implications of this theory are specifically related to the educational field in which the objectives are effective learning and testing the knowledge. The theory of social facilitation/inhibition states that in order to get better learning results, a person can give a try to learn fresh materials while being alone. The materials which are learnt being alone are considered to be complex and non-dominant and the best practice to someone should be based on the material which is well learnt in the presence of other people.

Social Facilitation (A Comprehensive Guide)

FAQs about social facilitation

What is social facilitation?

Social facilitation is referred to as how the performance is improved by only the presence of other people. Social facilitation is of two types. One is audience effect and other one is co-action effects.

What is an example of social facilitation?

 In the area of sports, the cyclists were timed when racing alone versus when they were in the presence of other cyclists.

What is social facilitation in sports? 

The existence of the audiences raises the arousal levels of the athletes. Increase in arousal may impact the performance either positively or can leave negative impact. 

What is the difference between social facilitation and social inhibition? 

When an individual can perform well in a task which is well-learnt when there are people around him, this is called social facilitation and when a person fails to perform well in a new or a poorly learnt task when the other people are around this is called social inhibition.

What is audience effect? 

Audience effect in social facilitation is referred to as when the performance of an individual is impacted by the presence of others. 


Social Facilitation (A Comprehensive Guide)

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behaviour, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.