Do you prefer to work in a group or by yourself? Why? Working in a group certainly has a number of advantages and disadvantages. In this lesson, we discuss three phenomena that can occur as a result of working in groups: groupthink, social loafing, and social facilitation.
Social groups are a basic part of human life. Except in rare cases, we all typically belong to many different types of social groups. Our groups give us security, companionship, values, norms, and so on. Beyond our primary groups of family and friends, most of us have several secondary groups that exist at work or school. With every group we're in, we see different effects, advantages, disadvantages, and consequences. The effects we'll discuss in this lesson are groupthink, social loafing, and social facilitation.
A negative consequence that can occur as a result of working in a group is groupthink, which is when a group makes faulty or ineffective decisions for the sake of reaching a consensus. In other words, group members are so focused on avoiding conflict and maintaining harmony that they reach a consensus without even considering alternatives.
For example, imagine you're with a group of colleagues, and you've decided to have lunch together. One person suggests a Chinese restaurant, and everyone agrees, so you all head to the restaurant together. You don't actually like Chinese food and just agreed to go to avoid conflict. It turns out that no one else likes Chinese food, either - they all agreed to go for the same reason you did! Although this is a simple example, there are times that groupthink results in disaster. We'll discuss groupthink more in-depth in another lesson.
A study on social loafing showed that people made less effort when pulling on a rope in a group
Another negative effect of groups is social loafing, which is the tendency for people to exert less effort to achieve a goal when they are in a group. This goes against the adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I'm sure you can think about school groups that you've been a part of that demonstrate social loafing. Certain members of the group would sit back and watch while other members did the majority of the work.
A well-known study on social loafing involved a simple rope-pulling experiment. The participants were asked to pull on a rope much like you would in a game of tug-of-war. First the participants tugged on a rope by themselves, then in a group. The study showed that the participants tended to exert less effort when pulling the rope in a group than when they were asked to pull the rope by themselves.
Social loafing is quite common and can be found in many situations. Why? Research shows that individuals often feel like their contributions don't matter, and therefore, they decrease their effort and contributions. Voting in the U.S. is a good example. Most citizens agree that voting is important. However, every year, a very small percentage of Americans participate in voting and elections. One vote can feel insignificant in such a massive population, so people may not think it is worth it to vote. The high number of people that feel this way is one of the reasons voting turnout is so low.
Two other common reasons given for social loafing are the 'sucker effect' and the 'free-rider effect.' The sucker effect refers to the tendency of people to try and avoid feeling like a 'sucker' by waiting to see how much effort others will put into a group first. These are people who often feel that the other group members will leave them to do all the work. The school group that we discussed earlier is a good example of this. If all the group members try to avoid being the sucker, then each person's effort will be significantly diminished.
An example of the free-rider effect is that people clap and cheer more quietly when in a group
The free-rider effect refers to the tendency of people to reduce their efforts when they believe that it will not affect the final performance of the group whatsoever. Another well-known social loafing study showed that people tend to clap and cheer much quieter when in a group. The majority of an audience claps loud enough to cover the lack of effort.
Fortunately, not all group work leads to social loafing. It is typically absent when the group's task is personally meaningful or challenging or when the members of the group value each other. A group of close-knit friends who are working together are unlikely to experience social loafing because they wouldn't want to let each other down.
Social facilitation is another phenomenon that results from working in groups but can be positive or negative. It is the tendency of the presence of others to affect how well we perform a task. Have you ever messed up typing when someone was looking over your shoulder or performed better when singing karaoke with a group instead of by yourself?
Research has shown that the presence of others typically enhances performance on simple or well-learned tasks but impairs performance on complex or difficult tasks. For example, the first study on social facilitation, conducted by Norman Triplett, found that cyclists had faster times when cycling in groups rather than cycling alone. The theory is that the presence of the other cyclists presented a challenge that resulted in an increase in adrenaline and energy.
Cyclists tend to have faster times when cycling in a group than when cycling alone
In contrast, another study found that the presence of others has a negative effect on complex cognitive skills. Joseph Pessin asked people to memorize a list of nonsense words that were all seven syllables long. He found that participants took longer to memorize the list in front of others and also made more mistakes. Because the task was not simple or well-practiced, the presence of others acted as a hindrance to performance.
In summary, groupthink, social loafing, and social facilitation are all potential effects of working in groups. Groupthink is when a group makes faulty or ineffective decisions because they are so focused on avoiding conflict and reaching a consensus.
Social loafing is the tendency for people to work less hard when they are in a group. People tend to exert less effort when working with others because they feel that their contributions don't matter and won't help the group, or they're afraid they will be suckered into doing most of the work, so they wait and see what everyone else does.
Social facilitation is the tendency for our performance to be affected when other people are present. Typically, we do better in the presence of others when performing a task that is easy or we know well because we feel the need to compete against them or impress them. On the other hand, we typically do worse when the task is more complex or difficult.
Once you have watched this lesson, you should be able to:
- Describe groupthink and social loafing as well as the 'sucker effect' and the 'free-rider effect'
- Define social facilitation and explain how it can be positive or negative