Social facilitation is
where your performance
at a task or a sport is
affected by the mere
presence of other people.
Depending on certain
may be either enhanced
or made worse by the
presence of others.
Social facilitation effects
can be found for many
types of behaviour.
Published one of
the first experiments
in social psychology.
This study was based on the
observation that competing
cyclists produced faster times
when racing wither another cyclist,
rather than simply competing on
their own against the clock.
Triplett's findings show that
cyclists were slowest when
racing alone and fastest when
racing with a pacemaker or in
a racing group.
Early findings with respect
to performance in the
presence of others seem to
be contradictory; sometimes
performance is enhanced,
but at other times it is worse.
(1930), Schmitt et al
(1986) and Zajonc et al
(1969) using animals.
Zajonc (1965) put forward a
theory to explain these
finding. Dominant Responses.
The rule that Zajonc observed was
that performance of a well-learned
or well-practiced task is enhanced
by the presence of other people.
In contrast, performance
of new or complex tasks
is inhibited by the
presence of other people.
In other words,
'performance is facilitated
and learning is impaired by
the presence of spectators'
Zajonc used the term
dominant response to
refer to behaviour we are
most likely to perform in
a given situation.
He claimed that dominant
responses are facilitated by the
presence of other people. When a
person has learned a behaviour or is
highly skilled at a particular task,
then this is their dominant response.
E.g. A world-class basketball player
who is skilled at throwing the ball
through the hoop can be regarded as
having this as a dominant response.
The player would have practiced this
behaviour again and again. In a match,
therefore, the presence of both other
players and the audience enhances or
facilitates this dominant response.
The player will pass more
balls through the hoop in
front of an audience than
when training alone.
By contrast, if someone was learning to touch-type
using all their fingers: this person would not be
skilled at touch-typing, so it would not be a
dominant response. In front of other people, the
person learning to touch-type would make many
more errors than if they were learning on their own.
Michaels et al. (1982)
Social Facilitation and Arousal.
Causes of Arousal.
An explanation put forward by Cottrell
(1972), revolves around the idea that, when
in the presence of others, we are concerned
that they are evaluating our performance.
When performing a task
in the presence of others,
Cottrell claimed that
The effect of evaluation apprehension on a
simple or well-learned task produces
arousal, which results in the performance
being enhanced. For a new or complex task,
evaluation apprehension increases arousal
to a very high level, with the consequence
that performance is worse than when alone.
Bartis et al. (1988)
Saunders (1983) proposed an
explanation of social facilitation
based on the idea that the
presence of other people creates
a distraction to the person
attempting to perform the task.
This, in turn, interferes with the
amount of attention the person
can give to the task. The person
then experiences a conflict
between whether to attend to
the task or to the audience.
This over conflict over what to
attend to produces an increase
in arousal, thus facilitating
performance on simple or
dominant tasks, and inhibiting
performance on complex or
The distraction-conflict theory of
social facilitation may also help
to explain the results from
studies using non-human
animals. Social facilitation has
been shown to occur in ants and
cockroaches (Zajonc et al.
1969). This is hardly likely to be
due to evaluation apprehension.
The presence of
other animals of the
same species may
be distracting and
hence may draw
attention away from
the task the animal
is trying to perform.
Saunders et al (1978)
Effects of Arousal.
Zajonc put forward the drive
theory of social facilitation.
This states that the presence of other
people increases a person's general level
of arousal (we become more energised
and alert); this, in turn, increases the
tendency to perform dominant responses.
Generally, when arousal is low,
such as when we are sleepy,
performance at tasks tends to be
poor. Similarly, when we are very
highly aroused, we show signs of
panic and disorganisation, which
also results in poor performance.
to be optimum when
arousal is moderate.
Zajonc's drive theory of social
facilitation suggests that the
presence of others when
responses increases arousal
to an optimum level for
performance. The presence of
others increases arousal level
to cause better performance
of a dominant response.
Optimum level of
arousal is different
for new and