Social Psychology

Student Learning Program

Chapter 12: The mere presence of others: The effects of minimal interdependence (pp. 440445)

Ask Yourself?

In this topic

  1. Social Facilitation: Improvement and Impairment (pp. 440444)
    1. Explaining social facilitation
    2. Evaluation apprehension
    3. Distraction
    4. Social facilitation in the workplace: Monitoring and job performance
  2. Crowding: The Presence of Lots of Others (pp. 444445)
    1. Crowding and the urban environment
Social Facilitation: Improvement and Impairment
Explaining social facilitation

The mere presence of others can improve performance of simple well-learned tasks (dominant responses), but can interfere with the performance of complicated, difficult, or new tasks (nondominant responses). This effect is called social facilitation.

Research activity: Social facilitation

In 1965, Robert Zajonc claimed that social facilitation is caused by elevated arousal. His theory was supported by most subsequent research, which pointed to two underlying causes: evaluation apprehension and distraction.

Evaluation apprehension

When others are in a position to judge us, this produces evaluation apprehension (M. Rosenberg, 1969), which changes our performance as predicted by social facilitation. Nonjudging spectators do not cause such an effect.

Distraction

When others are present, they distract us from the task at hand, again influencing performance according to social facilitation. In these cases, arousal seems to stem from the difficulty of performing a task while reacting to others. This effect has also been demonstrated in nonhuman species.

Social facilitation in the workplace: Monitoring and job performance

In the workplace, employees are often monitored in a variety of ways. When employees know about this, social facilitation increases the productivity of highly skilled workers, but decreases the productivity of relatively unskilled workers (Aiello & Kolb, 1995).

Crowding: The Presence of Lots of Others

Crowding, the packing of many people into a space, causes arousal. This arousal can reduce contentment, increase aggression, and raise blood pressure. Its effects are again the same as predicted by social facilitation.

Crowding and the urban environment

Crowding does not have as much of a negative influence on people living in a crowded city as one might expect. Cognitive and social factors may aid in preventing such an influence. People with a sense of control seem to experience less stress than people without this sense.

Case study: Crowding and the urban environment

So what does this mean?

When other people watch what we do, this impacts our performance. If we are highly trained at something, or it is a really simple task, our performance will often improve. On difficult or new tasks, our performance will be more likely to suffer. This is called social facilitation, and is caused by arousal, either from people judging us, or from people who are simply distracting us. This effect has been reproduced in many settings, like the workplace and crowded environments. In busy cities, its effect seems to be reduced by cognitive and social factors, such as a sense of control.

Next topic

Performance in face-to-face groups: Interaction and interdependence

In this chapter

  1. Chapter 12 introduction
  2. The mere presence of others: The effects of minimal interdependence
  3. Performance in face-to-face groups: Interaction and interdependence
  4. Chapter overview (PDF)
  5. Fill-in-the-blanks
  6. Multiple-choice questions