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Social Loafing: Definition, Examples & Theory

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  • 0:05 What is Social Loafing?
  • 0:27 Consequences of Social Loafing
  • 1:37 What Promotes Social Loafing?
  • 3:18 Culture & Social Loafing
  • 3:57 How to Reduce Social…
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Gary Gilles

Gary has a Master's degree in Counseling Psychology and has been teaching and developing courses in higher education since 1988.

Social loafing frequently occurs because certain individuals exert less effort than others and this can create an unhelpful group dynamic and individual response. Learn more about how social loafing occurs and what can be done to prevent it in this lesson.

What Is Social Loafing?

Social loafing refers to the concept that people are prone to exert less effort on a task if they are in a group versus when they work alone. The idea of working in groups is typically seen as a way to improve the accomplishment of a task by pooling the skills and talents of the individuals in that group. But, in some groups, there is a tendency on the part of participants to contribute less to the group's goal than if they were doing the same task themselves.

Consequences of Social Loafing

Social loafing has negative consequences for both the group and the individuals in the group. The group dynamic is affected when certain individuals are seen as weak contributors to the group purpose. It tends to split the group and fosters a lack of cohesion. For example, if only five of the eight members of a team are doing most of the work, it will often create an 'in' group (those members that are working hard) and an 'out' group (those members that are not contributing as much). Resentment can easily build between the two factions, causing less productivity and more emotional tension than a cohesive group would experience.

Individuals in the group can also be affected by social loafing. While there is a disparity of effort between members of a group, individuals start to gauge their own effort based on what others are doing instead of maintaining a standard of excellence towards achieving the goal. This lowers the level of satisfaction for the task in all members of the group. For example, if a motivated team member repeatedly feels others are relying on them to do most of the work, they might deliberately reduce their workload or even stop collaborating with group members because they no longer want to feel exploited by the less productive members.

What Promotes Social Loafing?

  • Group Size: The larger the group, the more likely it is that social loafing will occur. For example, if you have ten members of a group working on a project, it is easier for individuals who are not motivated or productive to hide because there are more people to pick up the slack.
  • Low Levels of Motivation: An absence of motivation prompts poor group participation. There are lots of reasons people may lack motivation for a group task. A common reason is when participants are assigned to a project, but don't want to be part of a group. A good example is when students are assigned to work in groups for an academic project. Inevitably, some students hate group work and decide from the start that they don't want to participate. When motivation is low among certain individuals in a group, they will often look for ways to assume the least amount of responsibility and contribute as little as possible. This, then, creates a burden on the remaining members of the group to take on more than their fair share of responsibility.
    • Another reason for low motivation is when individuals question the perceived value of the group's goal. If a group member doesn't think the group's purpose is worth their time or energy, their motivation to participate will likely be low.
  • Reduced Sense of Contribution: If an individual doesn't feel their contribution matters, they are less likely to assert the effort. A good example of this is voting. Many people say that voting for a cause you believe in is important. But, if a person perceives that too many people will vote against their cause, they may choose to not vote all. They don't think their vote will change the outcome, so why bother?

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