Social Facilitation Explained
Whether you have or haven’t heard of a term “Social Facilitation”, once we explain it to you, you will recognize it in some of your personal examples, as it is a social situation we all have been in.
How Social Facilitation is best explained? To understand it completely, you must know for the starters that this theory proves that human’s motivation doesn’t depend only on their own beliefs and capabilities, yet it is more complex.
Social Facilitation theory proves that our performance is under a higher or lower influence coming from the presence of other people whilst performing the given task.
We’ll get to the root of this theory, as well as the importance of it.
By the end of the text, you will be able not only to understand the concept of social facilitation but also to understand how you can apply it in your work.
So gather around with your friends or colleagues and dig into reading!
WHAT IS SOCIAL FACILITATION?
The definition of the Social facilitation says that it is a concept that confirms the idea that the mere presence of other people can directly influence individual performance in terms of improving it.
The further explanation says that there are actually two types of social facilitation.
The first concept refers to working individually alongside with other people. This one is professionally called “Co-action effect”. The “Co-action effect” influences individuals to feel competitive and perform the tasks more efficiently if put in a common working space.
The idea of competing with others pushes people to perform better and faster, with the aim of winning. Even though there isn’t an actual competition, this is enough for people to feel success.
The other form of social facilitation refers to working individually but in the presence of somebody who is overlooking the job or just taking a passive role in the working place.
This type is professionally called “the Audience effect”.
To best understand this, you can imagine working whilst constantly being overlooked by your boss. How did this make you feel?
It might surprise you that there would be different answers to this question.
Some of you would feel proud and go the extra mile to show your boss who actually is the boss.
Others would feel anxious, insecure and mostly uncomfortable. Where does this difference come from?
The difference the social facilitation effect can have on us comes from ourselves and our beliefs about our own capabilities.
We’ll get to the depth of both these concepts but before that let’s not spoil everything yet.
THE HISTORY OF SOCIAL FACILITATION THEORY
Let’s go back to the beginning and the root of this theory. It is interesting to know that this theory goes back to 1898, when the studies on this subject first began.
Later there were more scientists through history that studied social facilitation and they all had an impact on today’s understanding of the phenomenon.
1. Norman Triplett (1898)
As mentioned previously, 1898 was the year when studies on social facilitation theory began, and Mr. Norman Triplett was the first one who conducted the experiments.
For his first experiment, Norman Triplett chose cyclists and decided to measure their cycling time in different conditions.
For the first condition, they let them race individually, competing only against themselves or put more concrete – the timer. In the second condition, each cyclist was brought together and supposed to race not only against themselves (clock) but also against each other.
The results of the experiment proved that the cyclists’ race time was significantly better when they were competing against each other.
This was only the beginning as Norman Triplett decided to do this experiment once again, this time in the laboratory. It is important to mention that this is the first ever experiment on the social facilitation conducted in the laboratory conditions.
This time, the scientist chose children and fishing reels. Similar to the first experiment, there were two conditions. In first, a child alone was supposed to wind in a given amount of fishing line, competing only against the clock.
For the second condition, children were organized in pairs and given the same task. Although they were working individually on those tasks, they performed much better compared to working alone.
The results of this experiment proved once again the influence presence of others can have on individual performance and thus the Social Facilitation Theory was created.
2. Floyd Allport (1924)
As mentioned before, there were many scientists throughout the history that studied social facilitation. However, in this period, social facilitation had a bit different form.
For the starters, it is important to mention that it was Floyd Allport who named the term “Social Facilitation”.
Dr. Floyd Allport conducted a series of experiments regarding social facilitation.
Similar to Norman Triplett, Floyd Allport would organize experiments in two stages: first one where people would perform alone and the second one where they would find themselves surrounded by other people.
The results of these experiments in majority proved the improvement of performance when people were organized in groups. In that period, social facilitation was understood as the consequence of “the sight or sound of others making the same movement” and all of the results spoken in favor of it.
3. Robert Zajonc (1956)
Whenever you try to search the Internet or some library on the topic of social facilitation, it is inevitable not to come on to this name.
For many who do not know, Robert Zajonc was the one who proved that our own beliefs about ourselves and our capabilities will determine whether the effect of social facilitation will have a positive or a negative impact on us.
The difference between his and Norman’s and Floyd’s experiments was in the given task. There were still 2 stages in the experiment, but for the second one people were divided into two groups.
The first group had a simple task to perform. In the situation where they were observed by others, they had no difficulties in performing. On the contrary, they felt confident and managed to go the extra mile, with the obvious increase in their performance.
On the other hand, the second group had a more difficult and complex task. Besides being complex, the task was also unfamiliar to the people participating in the experiment, leaving them completely unprepared for the situation.
In this group, the results were completely different. The fact that they were observed and monitored by others led to them underperforming. The conclusion was obvious. People who felt unconfident and incapable of completing the task failed it, or at least ended up with worse results than in the previous phase.
It has been explained by the fact that in the situations where we are being overlooked while feeling insecure, we have more tendency to make mistakes and represent ourselves as bad workers.
This conclusion will change the way we look at the social facilitation forever and will help managers understand the motivation of their employees on a much higher level.
Robert Zajonc wasn’t the last scientist who dedicated himself to the research of Social facilitation but is the last one important to mention in order to understand the theory itself.
The theory has developed a bit more throughout the time and the biggest thanks to that go to all the scientists who kept on performing the experiments which result continued to prove the importance of understanding the social facilitation.
THE SOCIAL FACILITATION SUB-THEORIES
With many different scientists and approaches come different opinions, which then lead to forming different sub-theories.
We will cover the crucial ones that will help you understand social facilitation better and find the most fitting one for your business.
1. Activation Theory and Alertness Hypothesis
Activation theory and alertness hypothesis were introduced by no one but dr. Robert Zajonc himself and are only professional terms for the conditions that we have previously explained.
To become clearer, activation theory claims that people feel arousal when in the presence of other people and thus feel a higher drive to perform better.
On the contrary, if the task they actually have to perform is complex and difficult, they will find themselves in a state of alertness, which would lead to underperforming.
Both activation theory and alertness hypothesis were proved by several experiments and set a revolutionary tone to the social facilitation theory.
2. Evaluation Approach
In 1968, Henchy and Glass explained how the awareness of the fact that we are being overlooked and evaluated by other people in our presence is what influences our performance.
The fear of evaluation is mostly present in situations where we are being observed by our bosses and usually has a high impact on our performance.
3. Distraction-Conflict Hypothesis
Robert Barron gave his best to explain to society how the presence of other people can negatively influence the performance, as many things may come as a distraction to the job.
Imagine having a difficult and complex task to finish that demands your full concentration, but people who are observing you are moving or talking, producing noise and other kinds of distraction.
Not a very good environment for anyone to work in. even when it comes to simpler tasks. The presence of other people can be a huge distraction and therefore influence the performance negatively.
4. Overload Hypothesis
The overload hypothesis is quite similar to the distraction-conflict hypothesis.
In fact, it was built on it and represents the developed version of the distraction-conflict hypothesis.
To explain it further, this hypothesis claims that distraction coming from our environment lead to overloading our brains with the information.
Similar to the distraction-conflict hypothesis, the overload hypothesis explains how bad the influence on our performance may be.
But on the contrary, this hypothesis claims that the distractions coming from the environment have no influence on our performance if there is a simple task in front of us. It actually helps us focus on what is important.
5. Feedback-Loop Model
This is the theory that claims that in situations where being observed, people come more aware of themselves and their performance, making it the biggest and most important focus at that moment. All human beings have a desire of receiving positive feedback.
Therefore, when found in a situation where they are being evaluated, people tend to push themselves and perform better than usual, all with the aim of getting positive feedback.
This could be widely used in order to boost people’s performance and also help them realize that they are capable of performing in a better way.
6. Capacity Model
It was in 1977 when Shiffrin and Schneider presented the two-process theory of information processing. The capacity model leans itself on overload hypothesis but brings a further explanation of this phenomenon.
Shiffrin and Schneider explained the fact that when completing the difficult tasks our minds use cognitive processing. On the other hand, when completing the simple tasks our minds use automatic processing.
If a person is given a simple task, the automatic processing catches the full attention and therefore results in improved performance.
If a person is given a difficult task, it is a task for a person’s cognitive processing, which requires undivided attention. In these situations, any form of destruction can influence negatively the performance.
As mentioned before, there are even more hypothesis and sub-theories.
All of them have their role in today’s implementation of the social facilitation and we encourage you to research the topic even more.
However, those that we have covered will be more than enough to understand the concept of social facilitation and implement it successfully.
It is also interesting to mention that there are theories that directly opposite Social facilitation theory, such as Social loafing theory.
However, social loafing theory stayed the less used one ever since.
UNDERSTANDING THE IMPORTANCE OF SOCIAL FACILITATION
There are many positive aspects of understanding the concept of social facilitation and actually implementing it in your working place.
Top managers often emphasize how the social facilitation theory helped them understand their employees and provide them with the best environment for them, helping them achieve their full potential.
The biggest benefit of understanding social facilitation is definitely the fact that motivation starts to be seen in a different light.
If you are like most people, you probably find the motivation as something that mostly depends on you and your feelings.
When you apply that to business, you have a strong belief that the performance of an employee depends completely on their motivation to perform extraordinarily. And that motivation is entirely up to them.
However, the social facilitation theory proves something completely different.
Take for an example an average employee.
Thanks to what’s widely known in our society, the first assumption would be that employee has no motivation to perform better. In some of the cases, this will be true.
In others, the situation might be much more complex. Now imagine that the same employee had a bad previous experience in this industry and was perceived as someone who isn’t good at this job. For many humans, that would be enough to start feeling the same about themselves.
If an employee with that kind of beliefs is set in an environment where others are doing their best at the job, the employee will start underperforming due to the pressure coming from the presence of others and the competition that unconsciously exists.
With this kind of knowledge, you would treat your employee differently, wouldn’t you?
Instead of automatically assuming that he or she cannot develop since they lack the motivation, you can set them in a different environment or if possible enable them to work temporarily on their own until they gain confidence.
Whichever solution you choose, you will help the employee, which will help you and your company.
Meaning that this would be a win-win situation you wouldn’t be able to recognize and seize if it weren’t for the social facilitation theory.
And the things you could do with the social facilitation do not end here.
Now that you know how to get the best out of your employees that lack confidence, imagine what you could do and how much you could help the confident ones, giving them an opportunity to prove themselves in front of the others.
Let’s take this story as an example.
They say that the biggest fear in the world is the fear of public speaking. It is even bigger than the fear of death.
Somehow and luckily for most of us, there are people who simply enjoy standing up and talking passionately in front of others.
When we mention these people, there must at least one person you have in your mind right now. Imagine now, if you gave this person regularly an opportunity to present something in front of the large group of people.
Can you imagine how motivated he or she would be to perform this task? To go an extra mile? To perform better than anyone could imagine?
That is how motivated your employees could be constantly if the working environment and conditions suit them.
Of course, you can’t deny the effect of internal motivation.
But if you are a top manager, project manager, team leader or in any position to influence the working culture and opportunities, you should definitely consider applying social facilitation in your business.
Because if the external environment is so good that gets the best out of the people, the internal motivation will grow by itself, as they will find themselves suitable for the job they are doing and start developing passion towards it.
HOW TO USE SOCIAL FACILITATION IN YOUR COMPANY
Now that you completely understand the social facilitation and its benefits, it is a time to start implementing it.
The first thing in the process would be to actually get to know each of your employees really good.
In the process of recruitment, you may have given them personality tests to complete.
Whether you have or you haven’t, it would be beneficial to assign it even once again to your employees, as they must have changed during the period they were working in the company.
They should all help you with understanding the behavior of your employees at the working place, as well as their needs.
Understand the differences between these tests and choose the one (or more) you find the most fitting to your company.
Whichever you choose, you won’t make a mistake.
After you get the results and understand better your employee’s needs, it is time to start implementing the social facilitation theory.
The solutions are quite easy, as all you have to do is organize the tasks in order to match them and people that will perform them accordingly to their competences and the environment the task itself requires.
Even if some tasks do not require working alone or in a group, try to still organize those kinds of environments if the people who are completing the tasks perform better in such a climate.
The key to getting the best out of the social facilitation is to adjust the environment to the employee that you have given the task that matches their capabilities.
If you focus on this principle, there is no way to make a mistake.
Everything starts and ends with your employees so make sure you dedicate yourself to them and their needs completely.
Whether you have been familiar with the social facilitation before or not, now it should be clear to you why it is so important.
If you are having troubles with your employees, performance or productivity in general, this could be the simple (and the only one) solution you would need.
Whenever you start doubting somebody’s motivation, just remember that it is not always the internal one that makes the problem.
If you are in a situation to influence the external environment and create external information, seize the opportunity and do it.
It will help people around you improve and reach their full potential, and by improving the others, you are improving yourself.
Everything material (results, profit etc.) has ground on only one thing – people.
So use the benefits of this psychological theory and help your people become the best version of themselves!
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