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Social Facilitation: How useful is it?

Social facilitation definition: the concept that people have improved or impaired performance when they are in the company of others

People go along with each other. Social interaction is a must and a necessity, for individuals always belong to a particular group. You are only not an individual, you are also a member of a family, a student or worker, or a citizen of a country. Being a member of a community is a fact no one among us could simply escape.

It is great then, that some individuals do perform better, and excel with what they do when they are in the company of others. It makes them more comfortable, more adept at performing task when working in a group. Psychology, however, has found out long before, that people’s performance actually varies when with others. This phenomenon is known as social facilitation. In this article, we will explore things like Social Facilitation Psychology definition.

Social Facilitation Definition

Social facilitation is the concept that people have improved or impaired performance when they are in the company of others, working, with others, or are in a group, compared to when they are alone or on their own. The difference could be accounted both by simply working with others, but also the mere presence of other people. Simply put, they are better, or worse when there are others.

Benefits of social facilitation

Social facilitation could result in tremendous benefits, especially for a particular group. Team players, for instance, could be expected to perform better if they are with some people compared to none. Others, like students who loved the presence of others, will certainly perform better in class and might be more inclined to study simply by having people around.

As such, social facilitation encourages social interaction between individuals and allows for easy integration of an individual to a particular group or community. It could promote harmony and smooth relations with others. It could also inspire others, especially those who are uncomfortable working with others, as well as those who are aloof when with other people.

History of social facilitation

The phenomenon of social facilitation was first observed by psychologists working with some athletes. At the turn of the 20th century, it was observed by some that cyclists perform better and have optimum performance when in company of other cyclists. Not so compared to when they are cycling alone.

The experiments were duplicated throughout the last century, among children of various ages. The findings, however, were inconclusive. In the sixties, a breakthrough occurred when a study was published, saying that social facilitation could bring improved as well as impaired performance. The breakthrough concerns the nature of the task.

Social facilitation could bring improved performance when an individual working in a group is familiar and have great competence in performing a particular task. This is why cyclists perform better when they are together. However, they also found out that it could also result in impaired performance if the subject is not adept or competent at performing a particular task.

A basic example would illustrate the point. A really theater actor would be truly electrified and inspired by a crowd, whereas alone, he will probably be uninspired, and may not be in a mood at all to practice. Others, however, would be terrified by the mere sight of the audience, even though they practiced well.

This, in a nutshell, clarifies the nature of social facilitation, at least concerning the studies. The presence or others still weighs eventually on performance of the subjects. Other variables, however, are also present, which may affect the relation of the subject to others, whether as groupmates, workmates, teammates, audience, or simply other people.



Two types of social facilitation

To further elaborate, let us look at the two types of social facilitation.

Co-action effects

This about you or the subject’s performance being better due to the fact they have the same duties as you. Examples typical of these are those working in a company set-up, or the example of some athletes such as cyclists, which was cited earlier.

Audience effects

It talks about how the audience impacts the subject’s performance, due to the simple fact of being watched or observed. They do perform better when someone is watching. Examples of this are those theater actors mentioned earlier, who can be inspired and electrified by the mere presence of an audience.

It must be noted, however, that the types only refer to the positive impact, or performance improvement, of the subject, and this is how they view social facilitation classically. Co-action and audience effects may be at work and in effect at the same time. They need not be mutually exclusive.

Factors of social facilitation

As it turns out, some factors are responsible for social facilitation and how people react to the stimulus of others, be they co-workers, classmates, teammates, or audience. These are the following:

Physiological factors

The presence of others, be they companions, mates, or audiences, can induce physiological drive in an individual to strive harder, excel, and perform better. This drive could induce someone to be more active, alert, assertive, in some sense be more “alive” than when they are alone or isolated. The presence of others can stimulate them, allowing for social facilitation.

In social facilitation due to physiological factors, it is as if people exhibited this as a natural tendency, as part of their nature. They simply go along well with others and are naturally inclined to feel good when having some type of company.

Cognitive factors

This factor has something to do with the attention, distraction, or the lack of both, in the process of social facilitation. One has a heightened sense of alertness by being with others, more conscious, more attentive, or more distracted by having company, being with others, or by being watched and observed.

These can work both ways. One could be more concentrated on the task at hand precisely because of the presence of others. They could be more inspired when others are there, watching or observing. Or they could be more distracted, more nervous, precisely because they are with others, than when no one is around, or when without company.

Affective factors

Affective factors concern how your emotions, feelings, and affectations with regards to others may affect social facilitation. They can be positive and negative, depending on how do you judge yourself and your performance. Your feelings with others, those who are there with you, watching you, or observing you performing your tasks, affect social facilitation.

If your crush or your loved ones is watching you, you might get inspired in doing a task or in your performance. You may have different feelings though when it is your taskmaster, your employer, or your teacher watching your back, and observing you. The same thing when working with others, your feelings about them may affect social facilitation.


Examples of social facilitation

Some people, because of their profession or duties, experienced more social facilitation, and perform better in the company of others, or with an audience and other people around. Here are some examples.

Athletes

Athletes, of course, are by far, the most exposed as far as social facilitation is concerned. They are by far the most-watched, and play in front of thousands of people, and with millions watching. Some athletes perform even better when there are crowds, and perform well during games, when there are others, compared to when they are in practices or scrimmages.

Theater actors

Theater actors are another. They perform under constant pressure, from their fellow actors and workmates to the prying eyes of the audience. They experience the phenomenon of social facilitation more than any other, for their every move and dialogue are scrutinized and observed.

The very pressure of being on stage might bring the best or worse out of them. As such, social facilitation, as an improvement or decrease in the level of performance, might be experienced simultaneously, and on the same stage, literally.

Students

Students who want to study in class, in the company of others, and perform in their reviews better, than when they are studying alone and in the comfort of their homes. Same with students who want to excel in front of their classmates and teachers.

These are common examples of social facilitation and how people, when in a situation with others, either perform better or worse. It can go hand in hand. The same athlete who performed dazzlingly in front of a crowd. may experience terror and dread after committing an error. Same with actors and students.

Variables are always at play in social facilitation. It is, however, accepted by most people, that presence of others does have an impact on the performance of certain people, either positively or negatively. How much and how deep, is the one that is continuously being debated.

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About the author

Jess Man

Jessica is the Editor-in-Chief and Senior Diversity Advisor at Diversity Social. Jessica has over 10 years of working with and advising employers to be more diverse and create an inclusive working environment.
Jessica's experience spans private and non-profit sectors in multiple industries.
Jessica's expertise experience is beyond Diversity & Inclusion, she is also a certified professional IT recruiter in Data & Analytics, Database administration, Artificial Intelligence area.