Social feedback as a result. Motivation is lower

Social facilitation is a theory that helps us understand why we are motivated to do certain tasks and less motivated for others. Learn more about social facilitation and how it can be effectively used in a variety of situations, and test your knowledge with quiz questions.

Definition of Social Facilitation

Social facilitation is the idea that you will likely do better on a simple task when other people are watching you.

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However, you would tend to do less well on complex tasks where you were being watched or evaluated. For example, say you were asked by your boss to perform a relatively easy task, such as cleaning up a common work area. Social facilitation theory says that you would be likely to go the extra steps to put everything in its place and make the area very tidy if there were people watching you while you were working. But, if you were doing this same task after hours, when everyone had gone home for the day, you might not be as attentive to all the details.But, let’s make the task more challenging to see the other side of social facilitation theory. If you were asked to do a more complex task, such as painting the same common area while people are periodically watching, you might feel a lot more stress and be prone to a number of mistakes.

Why Is Social Facilitation Important to Know?

Knowing about social facilitation can help you understand motivation from a new perspective.

We often interpret someone’s performance based solely on his or her abilities. For example, if a person doesn’t perform well on a given task, we might just assume that he or she isn’t good at it or isn’t willing to put forth the effort that is needed to do it well. That may be the case.

However, social facilitation helps us to appreciate that our motivation for doing a task is also influenced by how good we perceive ourselves to be at the task and whether we are being evaluated by others.Motivation is high when performing an easy task that others observe. We are likely to get positive feedback as a result. Motivation is lower for more difficult tasks because we fear making mistakes, and this could result in unfavorable comments from others.The key to using social facilitation effectively is to assign tasks that you know will be observed by others but that also match the actual skills of participants. For example, Joan has been asked by her teacher to give a 5-minute presentation to the class on her paper topic.

Joan is confident when speaking in front of the group. Her motivation for this task should be high because she sees this as a relatively easy task. In contrast, Nick is very shy. Although it might be good practice for him to learn to speak in front of groups, his motivation for this task is low because he perceives this as a difficult task, and he anticipates a poor performance and negative responses from his classmates.

Research on Social Facilitation

Studies have shown that social facilitation is evident in many realms of life. For example, in the sporting realm, cyclists were timed when racing alone versus when they were in the presence of other cyclists.

The athletes consistently had faster race times when in the presence of their teammates versus when they were racing alone. The conclusion of the study was that the presence of the other cyclists made them more competitive.Another study looked at participants who performed a variety of mental tasks, such as solving word association tests and mathematical problems. Some of these people sat alone and others did them in a group setting. The participants who did the tasks in a group setting performed much better than the participants who worked alone.

Studies where more complex tasks were performed tended to produce the opposite effect. For example, a study that monitored the performance of people taking a driving test to obtain their license found that the presence of an additional person in the car (in addition to the instructor) decreased the likelihood that the person taking the test would pass.

Using Social Facilitation to Enhance Performance

Social facilitation can be used effectively as a way to motivate people. For example, Ted is a manager of six people in his department.

Two members of his team are self-driven and need little guidance or supervision to get their work done correctly and on time. The other four members of Ted’s team consistently miss deadlines and do not keep pace with the expected workload. Ted decides to apply the concept of social facilitation to these four lagging team members by asking for daily email reports on their progress and periodically dropping by their office to look over their work. After just one month of doing this, these four members have not missed a deadline and the quality of their work has greatly improved. Those four members of his team perform better because they know that they are being observed on a regular basis.

Lesson Summary

Social facilitation is the theory that we tend to do better on easy tasks when we know we are being watched or assessed. We do less well on more complex tasks when we know we are being observed by others.

Motivation is high when we think we will do well and low when we anticipate making errors that might result in criticism. Social facilitation can be used to improve individual performance if the task is observed by others and the level of difficulty matches the actual skill of participants.

Learning Outcomes

This lesson should help you to learn how to:

  • Understand what social facilitation is
  • Recognize the importance of understanding social facilitation
  • Recall some of the findings of studies on social facilitation
  • Explain how social facilitation can be used to enhance performance
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