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Henry had to give a presentation in front of his class. His teacher as well as classmates were going to be present. He was nervous in the beginning but the presence of other people in the class made him more confident and he performed well.

This confidence and good performance could be due to the presence of people around him. This phenomenon is called social facilitation.

Social Facilitationflairimages/dollar photo club

Social facilitation refers to the tendency of an individual’s performance to improve due to the presence of others around him or her. Individuals tend to put in more effort due to the presence (real or imagined) of other people.


Normann Triplett came up with the concept of social facilitation in 1898. He came up with this concept by observing records of a cycling association and noticing that cyclists who were competing with one another performed better than cyclists who performed alone to race against their own previous record.

He went on to study and examine this phenomenon in detail and came up with this whole concept. Later, in 1920, Floyd Allport named this concept ‘social facilitation.’

Types Of Social Facilitation

  • Audience Effects: This effect refers to the increase in an individual’s productivity or performance due to the presence of other people as an audience or viewer in the situation or context. American Psychologist John Dashiell discovered this effect through his study.
  • Co-action Effects: This effect refers to the increase in an individual’s performance or productivity when others are doing the same task as the individual.
  • Social Inhibition: This effect refers to the worsening of performance or decreases in productivity due to the presence of others.
  • Social Loafing: This effect could occur when people are put in a group and given a task. Some members assume that others would do the task and do not work hard enough due to the presence and existence of other group members. This effect is likely to happen when the contribution of members is not being supervised or scrutinized by any senior or authority figure.

Various Theories Of Social Facilitation

Stern Activation theory

In 1965, Robert Zajonc, a psychologist published an influential article that brought new life to social facilitation. Robert Zajonc explains the theory of social facilitation to be an outcome of arousal, that comes up due to the presence of other people.

He performed experiments to examine this phenomenon. He gave participants a simple task and a complex task that they had to perform in front of others. It was found that performance on the simple task was enhanced and more accurate in the presence of others.

However, performance on the complex task was not enhanced and faced hindrance due to the presence of people. This result gave rise to the phenomenon of social inhibition.

He explained this increase and decrease in performance by using the Yerkes-Dodson Law. This law believes that performance looks like an inverse ‘U’ function. This signifies that a person has a high optimal or general drive for simpler, known tasks and a low optimal drive for complex, unlearned tasks.

The presence of other people increases our drive and enhances our performance on simpler tasks. The drive is not aroused enough on complex tasks, leading to an average or lower performance on complex tasks.

Another law on motivation called the Drive Reduction theory, given by Clark Hull states that drives are physiological needs (like hunger, thirst etc.) that motivate/arouse the individual to behave towards reducing those drives, to regain internal balance or homeostasis.

Thus, the behaviors that were successful in meeting the needs are reinforced. When the bodily needs are met, the arousal levels are low.

Feedback Loop Model

This theory states that individuals become more aware of their actions and behaviors when they feel seen or observed by other people. This awareness leads to insight into the difference between an individual’s actual behavior and the behavior expected from them.

This awareness makes them more sensitive to tasks and they perform better due to giving more attention to themselves and the task at hand.

For example, an art student may become more conscious of his strokes while painting in a public place, when people are watching, rather than when he is in his studio, painting by himself.

Distraction-Conflict Theory

This theory suggested by Baron (1986) proposes that the presence of others in a situation creates a conflict in an individual’s mind about whether to focus on other people or the task at hand.

The person will tend to pay more attention to a task if it is a learned, practiced and familiar task. Social facilitation could happen here.

But if the task is new, unfamiliar and unlearned, people tend to focus on other people and their perceptions instead of the task at hand. Social facilitation might not happen in this case.

For instance, a first-time performer on stage may tend to forget his dialogue when he faces a large audience. This is because the presence of others can lead to a cognitive overload of stimuli or cues, which would divert the performer’s attention from the task to the audience and he would fumble his lines as he is relatively new to the task.

An experienced performer, on the other hand, can regulate the focus under the gaze of an audience without letting it affect his performance as he is familiar with such situations.

Evaluation-Apprehension Hypothesis

Another group of researchers has proposed that not just cognitive factors, but affective factors can also lead to disruption of performance. This idea known as the Evaluation Apprehension hypothesis was given by Cottrell, Wack, Sekerak and Rittle (1968).

It constitutes that performance may be impaired when in front of an audience due to the fear/apprehension of being evaluated or judged. In many of their experiments, they found that when the audience was blindfolded or appeared to be uninterested in what the performer was doing, social facilitation did not occur.

Alertness Hypothesis

This theory suggests that a person becomes more alert around the presence of people, as they feel observed. This alertness causes more attention and effort, leading to better, enhanced performance.

Social Orientation Theory

This theory states that people can go through social facilitation or social inhibition based on their social orientation. Individuals with a positive orientation towards social situations would enjoy social facilitation and enhanced performances.

Positive orientation includes being self-confident and open to challenges. On the other hand, people with a negative orientation are less self-confident and feel nervous about the presence of people. They could possibly go through social inhibition.

For example, in an office party where people must randomly perform something they are good at, positively oriented individuals might take up the chance to show their talents and increase the energy of the group.

While those with a negative social orientation, even if they possess talent, would hesitate from displaying it due to nervousness in the presence of colleagues.

Capacity Model

This model suggests that our performance on different tasks is based on how much capacity of working memory is used in the execution of the task. For instance, tasks like washing hands is routine and automatic, which do not require much working memory.

Hence, even if the person is in a new place, amongst new people, washing hands action is not affected.

Whereas a person who is appointed to take registrations for an event, is new at the job that requires the quick mental calculation of money, might find it difficult initially as the job needs multitasking and systematic performance of tasks using the working memory (like taking down the details of the participants, giving out handouts, receiving the fee, giving exact change etc.)

Self-Presentation Theory

This theory of social facilitation says that people are conscious about projecting a positive self-image of themselves in the presence of others. Therefore, they are more likely to perform better in front of an evaluating audience to create good impressions. This theory is related to the Evaluation Approach.

Example of Social Facilitation

A student, who is learning a new arithmetic concept when being observed by another individual, is more likely to take longer to solve a problem. This is because he still not very familiar with the concept that he needs to use to solve the problem. When someone else is watching him, the increased arousal causes his dominant response to be enhanced, resulting in the problem being solved slowly.

On the other hand, a teacher who is well-versed in the concept will solve the problem much faster when he is being observed. This is because his familiarity level is high and increased arousal causes him to correctly respond and his performance is enhanced.

Social facilitation also explains how seasoned athletes perform their best in the presence of a crowd or audience.

Even television characters have been proven to trigger the effects of social facilitation.

A study conducted by Wendi Gardner and Megan Knowles showed that participants performed complex tasks, worse and simple tasks better in the presence of a picture of their favorite television character. This result, though, didn’t extend to the presence of a non-favorite character.

Importance of Social Facilitation

The study of social facilitation is important to understand how humans behave in social and non-social situations. When researching social facilitation, an individual is studied separately doing an activity and then studied doing the activity in the presence of another person who does not in any way compete or cooperate with the test subject.

Social facilitation is an important phenomenon in understanding human behavior and motivation. This tendency or phenomenon helps us understand the impact of other peoples’ presence on our behaviors and productivity. This phenomenon can work positively or negatively.

A familiar, learned task can foster social facilitation in the presence of people but the presence of people during an unlearned, unfamiliar task can hinder performance and lead to social inhibition. Knowing this difference can help people in regulating their behavior or performance in the presence of others.


Thus, social facilitation implies self-improvement, through self-regulation and practice, gaining confidence in one’s abilities due to better performance in the presence of others. People have an increased sense of belonging within a group due to better social orientation, and healthier productivity in the workplace.

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