Social Facilitation and why are we aroused in the presence of others?

Social Facilitation and why are we aroused in the presence of others?

Q.No.3 What do you know about Social Facilitation? Also briefly explain why are we aroused in the presence of others?

Social Facilitation:

Studies on social facilitation concern the extent to which a given piece of an individual’s behavior is affected by the real, imagined or implied presence of others.

Perhaps the first social psychology laboratory experiment was undertaken in this area by Norman Triplett in 1898.

In his research on the speed records of cyclists, he noticed that racing against each other rather than against the clock alone increased the cyclists’ speeds. He attempted to duplicate this under laboratory conditions using children and fishing reels. There were two conditions: the child alone and children in pairs but working alone. Their task was to wind in a given amount of fishing line and Triplett reports that many children worked faster in the presence of a partner doing the same task.

Triplett’s experiments demonstrate the co-action effect, a phenomenon whereby increased task performance comes about by the mere presence of others doing the same task.

The co-action effect may come into operation if you find that you work well in a library in preference to working at home where it is equally quiet (and so on). Other co-action effect studies include Chen (1937) who observed that worker ants will dig more than three times as much sand per ant when working (non-co-operatively) alongside other ants than when working alone and Platt, Yaksh and Darby (1967) found that animals will eat more of their food if there are others of their species present.

Social facilitation occurs not only in the presence of a co-actor but also in the presence of a passive spectator/audience. This is known as the audience effect, surprisingly.

Dashiell (1935) found that the presence of an audience facilitated subjects’ multiplication performance by increasing the number of simple multiplications completed. Travis (1925) found that well-trained subjects were better at a psychomotor task (pursuit rotor) in front of spectators. However, Pessin (1933) found an opposite audience effect, namely that subjects needed fewer trials at learning a list of nonsense words when on their own than when in front of an audience.


It seems, then, that the extent of social facilitation or inhibition depends upon the nature of the interaction between the task and the performer. In some cases the presence of co-actors/audience improved the quality of performance (Dashiell 1935, Cottrell 1972) but in others it impaired the quality (though it increased the quantity of, say, multiplications).


To this point we have seen that what you do well, you will be energized to do best in front of others (unless you become hyper aroused and self-conscious). What you find difficult may seem impossible in the same circumstances. What is it about other people that cause arousal? Is it their mere presence? There is evidence to support three possible factors, each of which may play a role.

Evaluation Apprehension

Nickolas Cottrell surmised that observers make us apprehensive because we wonder how they are evaluating us. To test whether evaluation apprehension exists, Cottrell and his associates (1968) repeated Zajonc and Sales’s nonsense-syllable study at Kent State University and added a third condition. In this “mere presence” condition they blindfolded observers, supposedly in preparation for a perception experiment. In contrast to the effect of the watching audience, the mere presence of these blindfolded people did not boost well-practiced responses. Other experiments confirmed Cottre its conclusion: The enhancement of dominant responses is strongest when people think they are being evaluated. In one experiment, joggers on a University of California at Santa Barbara jogging path sped up as they came upon a woman seated on the grass—if she was facing them rather than sitting with her back turned (Wor-ringham & Messick, 1983).

Evaluation apprehension also helps explain:

■          Why people perform best when their co-actor is slightly superior (Seta, 1982) Why arousal may lessen when a high-status group is diluted by the addition of people whose opinions we don’t much care about (Seta & Seta, 1992)

■          Why people who worry most about others’ evaluations are the ones most affected

■          Why social-facilitation effects are greatest when the others are unfamiliar and hard to keep an eye on (Guerin & Innes, 1982)


The self-consciousness we feel when being evaluated can also interfere with behaviors that we perform best automatically—without thinking about how we’re doing them (Mullen & Baumeister, 1987). If self-conscious basketball players analyze their body movements while shooting critical free throws, they are more likely to miss.

Driven by Distraction

Glenn Sanders, Robert Baron, and Danny Moore (1978; Baron, 1986) carry evaluation apprehension a step farther. They theorize that when people wonder how co-actors are doing or how an audience is reacting, they get distracted. This conflict between paying attention to others and paying-attention to the task overloads the cognitive system, causing arousal. Evidence that people are indeed “driven by distraction” comes from experiments that produce social facilitation not just by the presence of another person but even by a nonhuman distraction, such as bursts of light (Sanders, 1981a, 1981b).

Mere Presence

Zajonc, however, believes that the mere presence of others produces some arousal even without evaluation apprehension or conflict. For example, people’s color preferences are stronger when they make judgments with others present (Goldman, 1967). On such a task, there is no “good” or “right” answer for others to evaluate and thus no reason to be concerned with their reactions.

That response facilitation effects also occur with animals, which probably are not consciously worrying about how other animals are evaluating them, hints at an innate social arousal mechanism common to much of the zoological j world. I think that Tawana, our jogger, would agree. Most joggers feel energized when jogging with someone else, even one Who neither competes nor evaluates.

This is a good time to remind ourselves of the purpose of a theory. As we looted in Chapter 1, a good theory is scientific shorthand: It simplifies and summarizes a variety of observations. Social-facilitation theory does this well.


It is a simple summary of many research findings. A good theory also offers clear predictions that (1) help confirm or modify the theory, (2) guide new exploration, and (3) suggest practical application. Social-facilitation theory has definitely generated the first two types of prediction: (1) The basics of the theory (that the presence of others is arousing and that this social arousal enhances dominant responses) have been confirmed, and (2) the theory has brought new life to a long dormant field of research. Does it also suggest , some practical applications?

Application is properly the last research phase. In their study of social facilitation, researchers have yet to work much on this. That gives us the Opportunity to speculate on what some applications might be. For example, as Figure HS illustrates, many new office buildings are replacing private offices with large, open areas divided by low partitions. Might the resulting awareness of others presence help energize the performance of well-learned tasks but disrupt creative thinking on complex tasks? Can you think of other possible applications?

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