Social facilitation

Psychology - social facilitation
Social influence


Social facilitation - basic overview

First introduced in 1898 by Normal Triplett as he saw cyclists rode faster when racing together as oppose to alone, this is co-action - when people work alongside each other on the same task. Social facilitation is the tendency for people to perform better on tasks in the presence of others than alone. It's also seen in animals - ants have been found to dig up to three times more than when alone (Chen 1937.)

Social facilitation does not nesecarily have to involve competition, however. This is hard to measure as if you tell people not to compete they probably will anyway.

Dashell found just the presence of an audience resulted in social facilitation.

Some research produced the opposite effect - social inhibition, which is the tendency for people to perform less well in the presence of others than when alone. Zajonc provided a theory that explained this contrasting evidence

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Arousal theory of social facilitation

People are unpredictable so their presence causes a person to be in a state of alerted was or arousal.

Zajonc stated that this 'preparedness' acts as a drive that brings out the dominant response (the response most likely to be given in a situation that is most usual, appropriate or best practised. It takes priority over all other possible responses.)

In an easy or well practised task, the dominant response is usually correct, so social facilitation occurs, but in a not well learned task, or an unpractised task, the dominant response is usually incorrect, so social inhibition occurs.

This explains the contradictory findings

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Arousal theory- Micheals et al 1982

AIM- to investigate the presence of an audience on the performance of average and below average pool players

METHOD - pool players were watched from a distance and classified as average or below average. Researchers recorded the number of successful shots by six identified as average and six of below average. The players didn't know they were being observed. Four researchers then walked up,to the table and made it obvious they were observing.

RESULTS - the players identified as average in ability increased their shot accuracy by 9% whereas those below average showed a decrease of 11% when watched.

CONC- the presence of an audience results in social facilitation when the task is well known, but social inhibition when it is more difficult.

EVALUATION - high in ecological validity, and as the participants were unaware they were being observed they were less likely to react with demand characteristics. But this lack of awareness raises ethical issues due to invasion of privacy and lack of informed consent.

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Arousal theory - animals

Zajonc observed cockroaches in a runway, and they reached the goal box quicker in pairs than alone. If the task was made more difficult with a turn, the cockroaches were faster running alone. It was also conducted with them in the presence of other cockroaches, and this resulted in social facilitation in the easy task but social inhibition in the hard task.

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Evaluation of arousal theory

o the theory doesn't explain why a person who's very competent at a task can still perform poorly in front of an audience. This is explained by the yerkes- Dodson law. According to this law, when arousal is very high or low then performance is poor. Performance is best at optimum levels of arousal.

o the theory doesn't acknowledge cognitive processes as important. Certainly results from animal studies suggest these aren't nesesarry. Nevertheless, some believe the thought of competition in the case of co action and the thought of being judged in the cases of audiences are important factors in social facilitation.

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Evaluation apprehension theory

Cottrell (1968) argued that it's not the presence of others that causes arousal but the apprehension (anxiety) of being evaluated by others. Increased arousal isn't an innate response but a learned one, and we associate people with evaluations of their task performance. Thus the mere presence of others isn't enough to raise arousal and the dominant responses that follow.

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Evaluation apprehension - henchy and glass 1968

AIM- to investigate whether the concern of being evaluated is nesecary to produce a dominant reponse.

METHOD- participants performance on tasks, such as typing was assessed in one of four conditions -

o. Alone - the control condition

o In the presence of two 'experts'

o In the presence of two non 'experts

o alone but filmed for later evaluation of experts

RESULTS- facilitation of dominant (well learned responses)only occurred in conditions one and four. One and threes performance was similar

CONCLUSION- some concern of evaluation is nesecary to produce dominant responses.

EVALUATION- it raises ethical issues. Participants have been subjected to stress to test apprehension . The strength is that it used 4 groups which well separated the effect of the presence of others

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Evaluation of evaluation apprehension theory

o there is further support for this theory from studies in which the audience is blindfolded. As the theory would predict, there's no social facilitation on well learned tasks.

o The theory doesn't explain social facilitation in animals that presumably don't experience evaluation apprehension

o Evaluation apprehension may be one cause of arousal in the presence of others, but might not be the only factor

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Distraction- conflict theory

Baron (1986) suggests the presence of others is distracting as attention is divided as attention Is divided between the task and the audience or the coactors (response conflict.) two effects occur:

o Distraction leads to a negative effect on task performance, regardless of whether the task is simple or complex because one is less able to concentrate on the task

o The conflict increases arousal, making the dominant response more likely.

Together, these processes impair the performance of complex tasks (distraction plus dominant reponse, which is incorrect) but improve performance on simple tasks (correct dominant response outweighing the negative effect of distraction.)

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Evaluation-apprehension- Sanders et al 1978

AIM- to investigate whether distraction would result in social facilitation on a simple task and social inhibition on a complex task

METHOD- participants were given a simple and complex digit copying task this was done alone or in co-action with the co-actor performing the same task (distracting) or a different task (not distracting.)

RESULTS- participants in the distraction condition made more mistakes on the complex task but copied more digits correctly on the simple task than the other two co-action conditions. The DV was the number of mistakes made.

CONC- the results supported the distraction-conflict theory , performance on simple tasks was facilitated by distracting others, but inhibited by distracting others on a complex task.

EVAL- there is a degree of subjectivity deciding what is 'distracting' and what is 'simple' or 'complex'. The study was a highly controlled experiment involving six conditions.

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Distraction-complex evaluation

o This theory can be applied to any distracting stimulus. Experiments show that any form Of distraction, not just social, can cause social facilitation or inhibition

o the theory can explain results from social facilitation in animals - it's possible to distract animals.

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