Social Loafing & Social Facilitation: Definition and Effects of Groups

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  • 0:06 Social Groups
  • 0:45 Groupthink
  • 1:44 Social Loafing
  • 4:50 Social Facilitation
  • 6:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Long-Crowell
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

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
Social Loafing

Social Loafing

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
Free Rider Effect

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

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?

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