Social Facilitation, Social Inhibition, and Social Loafing

Social Facilitation and Social Inhibition

Social facilitation refers to enhanced individual task performance and social inhibition refers to decreased individual task performance, both of which occur while in the presence of others (Crisp & Turner, 2010; Fiske, 2010; Hogg & Cooper, 2007; Klehe, Anderson, & Hoefnagels, 2007; Wagstaff et al., 2008).  Social facilitation and inhibition has been documented in insects (Baumeister & Finkel, 2010), animals, children (Arteberry, Cain, & Chopko, 2007), and adults (male and female).  There are more than a few theories suggested for the seemingly oppositional phenomena.  It is important to note, however, there is no unified consensus regarding any one theory being better than another.  There is research support for each theory.  Therefore, it has been suggested that the elements of these theories are not mutually exclusive making it likely that there could be elements of each occurring in any particular situation/context.

Drive theory posits the mere presence of others increases physiological arousal thereby enhancing a dominant (automatic) response (Crisp & Turner, 2010; Hogg & Cooper, 2007).  If the dominant response is for a well-learned, simple task, performance is enhanced.  If, on the other hand, the dominant response is for complex, novel, or otherwise unfamiliar tasks, performance is inhibited (Baumeister & Finkel, 2010).  In a similar vein, evaluation apprehension argues that physiological arousal does occur, but it occurs in response to an evaluation presence or component (Fiske, 2010).  “People know, from experience, that most observers are judging the quality of their work, and so the presence of an audience increases feelings of evaluation apprehension. As a consequence, individuals who display a negative orientation toward social situations tend to show a decline in performance in social settings, whereas those with a more positive orientation show a gain in performance” (Baumeister & Finkel, 2010, p. 515).

A cognitive theory, distractional conflict, postulates it is not simply the presence of others resulting in improved or decreased performance, but split cognitive attention or focus (Crisp & Turner, 2010).  Therefore, if the task requires the same cognitive resources as attending to the presence of another (observer, audience, participant, coactor), then performance will be necessarily reduced, as opposed to the task requiring automated motor skills allowing for the physiological process to enhance performance.  Potential evidence in support of this approach has been found in neurological studies (Wagstaff et al., 2008).  For instance, according to one study, overly taxing the executive functions of working memory can reduce performance on a task.  Although a variety of tasks can directly affect working memory and/or cognitive load, from these researchers’ perspective “human groups, especially strangers, may be perceived as a potential source of threat; if the executive and frontal systems are activated by being in a group, one might predict that an executive or a related frontal task would be performed less well in a group situation” (Wagstaff et al., 2008, p. 830).  This cognitive approach aligns well with research evidence demonstrating “social inhibition has been shown to occur most frequently when tasks are complex, involve novel stimuli, require the suppression of dominant responses, and require the detection and correction of errors, whereas social facilitation occurs when the opposite conditions exist” (Wagstaff et al., 2008, p. 830).

Another variable added to the mix is self-efficacy known as the “belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute courses of action required to produce given attainments [and] is a valid predictor of performance” (Klehe et al., 2007, p. 225).  Thusly, confidence in one’s ability to perform a task may very well enhance performance on that task, and vice versa.  Another possibility is that the individual may feel confident in their task abilities, but not their interpersonal or social abilities, thus increasing their inhibition and reducing their performance.

Social Loafing

Social loafing is another phenomenon that occurs in groups, but only when the individual’s efforts are pooled together resulting in a joint final product (Crisp & Turner, 2010; Hogg & Cooper, 2007).  Specifically, in groups with a collective effort producing a joint final product, there is a distinct reduction in individual effort as opposed to the direct 1:1 summative result expected.  Again, there are a number of theories attempting to explain the phenomena.  For instance, social-impact theory suggests the reduction of individual effort is the result of diffusion of responsibility amongst members of the entire group (Crisp & Turner, 2010; Hogg & Cooper, 2007).  Drive theory suggests that individuals are less motivated in the presences of coworkers (cotargets) versus cofactors or evaluators (Hogg & Cooper, 2007).  Evaluation theory proposes that because an individual has no sense of being evaluated, they withdraw their effort (Hogg & Cooper, 2007.

Video Vignette

Social Facilitation.  Three of the works in the video vignette demonstrated social facilitation behaviors – Gavin and Kathy.  Their positive performance is indicated through active brainstorming suggestions and participation.  Ken’s behavior seems indicative of assuming a leadership role in the meeting, facilitating the meeting, asking questions, providing positive reinforcement and support. It is possible his behavior is being enhanced as a result of participation in the group, providing him an opportunity to express his leadership skills.  It is difficult to be certain in light of the limited information provided.

Social Inhibition.  Amanda demonstrated social inhibition.  She is significantly less participatory, more nervous, and anxious as noted by Gavin and Kathy.  Her thoughts are indicative of self-efficacy issues.  Her behavior indicates apprehension.  One possible moderator for Amanda would be to provide positive feedback regarding her job performance, aiding her in improving her beliefs regarding self-efficacy, which will in turn, improve her performance.

Social Loafing.  Brian is clearly the social loafer of the group as indicated by his reticence in participation and interest in helping with any of the implementation of the project ideas.  As previously discussed, there are a few possible reasons for Brian’s behavior.  He could believe his effort is wasted in the group because the others have everything covered.  He could also feel that because his individual efforts will not be appreciated he does not need to work as hard, or there is no point in working harder without getting appropriate recognition.  Suggestions to modify Brian’s behavior and participation include instituting an individual evaluation component, provide positive reinforcement that each person’s contribution is valuable to the group and project at hand, and, minimize group size to enable positive feedback for each member (Baumeister & Finkel, 2010).


Arteberry, M. E., Cain, K. M., & Chopko, S. A. (2007). Collaborative problem solving in five-year old children: Evidence of social facilitation and social loafing. Educational Psychology, 27(5), 577-596.

Baumeister, R. F., & Finkel, E. J. (2010). Advanced social psychology: The state of the science. [Kindle edition]. Retrieved from

Crisp, R. J., & Turner, R. N. (2010).  Essential social psychology (2nd Ed.).  Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Fiske, S. T. (2010). Social beings: Core motives in social psychology (2nd Ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Fiske, S. T., Gilbert, D. T., & Lindzey, G. (Eds.).  (2010). The handbook of social psychology (Vol. 1, 5th ed.).  Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Hogg, M. A., & Cooper, J. (Eds.). (2007). The Sage handbook of social psychology (concise student edition, ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Klehe, U., Anderson, N., & Hoefnagels, E. A. (2007). Social facilitation and inhibition during maximum versus typical performance situations. Human Performance, 20(3), 223-239.

Wagstaff, G. F., Wheatcroft, J., Cole, J. C., Brunas-Wagstaff, J., Blackmore, V., & Pilkington, A. (2008). Some cognitive and neuropsychological aspects of social inhibition and facilitation. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 20(4), 828-846.


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