Social Loafing Vs. Social Facilitation: Recognizing Individual Behaviors In Group Settings

Social Loafing Vs. Social Facilitation
Jacob Lund/
Summary: Explore the dynamics of social loafing and social facilitation in group behaviors. Understand the factors influencing individual performance and discover strategies to mitigate social loafing while harnessing the power of social facilitation for improved group outcomes.

Addressing Social Loafing And Social Facilitation In Group Work

Social loafing is a phenomenon in which an individual puts in less effort when working collectively as a part of a group/team. Here, some of the group members slack off at their work, assuming their contribution will not make much difference in achieving the goal and that others will compensate for their low performance. In group activities, individual efforts blend into the team’s collective outcome, which makes it difficult to identify how much contribution was made by each team member.

The Concept Of Social Loafing

The concept of social loafing was introduced by the French agricultural engineer Max Ringelmann in 1913 using the rope-pulling experiment. In this experiment, he asked people to pull the rope individually at first and then measured the pulling force. Later, he added more people to pull the rope in unison and measured the pulling force again. He noticed that as more people were added to pull the rope, the total pulling force increased; however, the pulling force of individual persons declined significantly.

In other words, when people were asked to pull the rope individually, they exerted more effort. But, when they were asked to pull it in a group, people contributed comparatively less individual effort than they were capable of. This tendency leads to lower productivity and poor performance.

How Social Loafing Affects Productivity And Performance In Group Work

The question arises why the productivity in the group activity decreases and why people do not pull their weight when working as a part of the group. Here are the most probable answers:

  • People, when working as a part of a group, think that their small contribution will not make much difference in achieving the goal. Especially if they are working with a team of highly skilled people, they assume others will pick up the slack.
  • The diffusion of responsibilities in a group is another reason behind the sluggishness of group members—a team takes collective responsibility for any specific task, instead of each team member being accountable for their fair share of work. The absence of individual responsibility makes some people reluctant to work, making them dependent on others to compensate for their low outcomes.
  • In a group activity, individual efforts blend into a team effort. Thus, a person working dedicatedly does not get any special credit for their hard work, whereas people who are pretending to work and not contributing anything also enjoy the same group credit.

What Is Social Facilitation?

Social facilitation is a psychological concept in which the presence of others has a positive impact on a person performing any task. This phenomenon was first proposed by American psychologist Norman Triplett in 1898. He collected bicycle racing records from a cycling association and studied the patterns. He noticed that cyclists who were racing against other competitors performed better than those cyclists who were rehearsing and trying to beat their own time using the stopwatch. Therefore, he concluded that a person’s individual performance drastically improves in the presence of others, provided that they are familiar with the task.

To put it simply, if someone is asked to perform a familiar activity in front of others, it is likely that they are going to excel at it, which is known as social facilitation. However, if the person is asked to work on a task they are not familiar with, chances are their performance will not be up to the mark due to the fear of judgment. This is also termed social inhibition.

An Example Of Social Facilitation

For example, consider a student asked to solve a simple math problem on a blackboard that they know how to do. Of course, they will be able to solve the problem very confidently in front of the entire class with minimal focus. This is considered "social facilitation." However, if a student is asked to solve a complex or difficult problem on the blackboard, they might not be able to do it efficiently because:

  • The question to be solved requires focus, attention, and logic.
  • The student will continuously worry about what will happen if they can’t solve the problem. They will focus on what the teacher and students will think about them if they can’t do it.

Here, the focus of a student is split into two things, one is how to solve it, and the second is the judgment of others. Due to nervousness and divided attention, the student may end up performing poorly. This is called "social inhibition."

The Two Types Of Social Facilitation

Two types of social facilitation have been defined:

1. Co-Action Effect

Here, the performance of the individual improves when other co-workers/people around you are doing similar tasks as you. For example, if you go to the library, you can focus and study better than studying alone at home.

2. Audience Effect

Here, the performance of the individual improves because they pursue the task in front of others (audience). For instance, a musician can perform better on the stage or in theaters instead of performing in solitude.

The Differences Between Social Facilitation And Social Loafing

Both social facilitation and social loafing are phenomena that showcase the performance of an individual in the presence of others. But there are some points that will help you distinguish between them.

1. Definition

Social loafing is a phenomenon where individuals do not contribute their fair share of work when working as a part of a group. As the size of the group increases, the social loafing phenomenon becomes more apparent. Whereas in the case of social facilitation, the performance of an individual improves when others are involved, specifically when the doer is familiar with the task.

2. Impact On Performance

In social facilitation, the presence of others has a positive impact on the performance of the individual. However, in the case of social loafing, the presence of others negatively influences the productivity and performance of the individuals.

3. Contributory Factors

Relying on co-workers to pick up the slack, the working environment, the diffusion of responsibility, and the meaningfulness of the tasks are some of the factors that affect social loafing. However, familiarity with the task determines whether it is going to be social facilitation or inhibition. In addition, the supportiveness of the audience is also one of the factors that affect social facilitation.


Both the social loafing and social facilitation phenomena are parts of group behaviors, but the major difference lies in how they affect individual performance. In social facilitation, the presence of others positively impacts individual performance, while in social loafing, an individual exerts less effort to achieve a goal when working in a group than working alone.

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