What is social facilitation and what are some good social facilitation examples? Social facilitation is the tendency for people to perform much better when under the gaze of an audience. This is known as the “audience effect”. The same effect is observed when a simple task is performed in the company of others: this is known as a “coaction effect”. Interestingly, social facilitation only occurs when the task is simple, or one that the person is already skilled at. If the task is more complex, or one that the person is not skilled at, the presence of an audience diminishes their performance level.
Norman Triplett first undertook research into the social facilitation phenomenon in 1898. He observed that whilst professional cyclists tended to perform better in the company of other cyclists, in certain situations, their performances deteriorated.
Further research in 1965 by Robert Zajonc finally explained the reason why performance levels went up and down in the presence of an audience. Zajonc introduced the concept of physiological arousal as a result of the presence of others during the performance of a task. More research carried out by Baron in 1986 introduced the idea of attention and distraction, as well as noting that an audience also influences social facilitation.
Modern social psychologists believe that the effects of social facilitation are influenced by a combination of physiological arousal, cognitive processes and evaluation apprehension.
What causes the effects of social facilitation?
We all know that in certain situations, having an audience is very helpful and is likely to stimulate us into giving a far better performance than we would otherwise. But conversely, we also recognize that if the task is difficult, an audience can be extremely unnerving and if we are not sure how to do the task, we are likely to take far longer to do it, and probably make a mess of it.
In the presence of an audience, even when we cannot see that audience very well, the effects of physiological arousal are very energizing and we find it easier to do simple tasks. Unfortunately, if we are not sure of our skills, we can feel as if we are being evaluated and criticized, which usually has an adverse effect and our performance level drops.
What social facilitation examples are there?
Sports are a prime example of social facilitation in action. Any highly skilled sports person will perform better in front of an audience and many of them give incredible performances when being watched by millions of people. But if you placed a less confident amateur athlete at an important athletics championship and instructed them to run the 100 meter race with top athletes, even if the amateur was talented, the pressure would almost certainly lead to a performance far worse than one they were actually capable of.
Another example of social facilitation is a group of employees giving a presentation to management. The confident individuals who know their material are likely to give a great performance, but the less confident employees will probably make mistakes and perform at a much lower standard than their actual capability.