Social Facilitation: Drive Theory, Evaluation Apprehension, Distraction Conflict

Edited by Jamie (ScienceAid Editor), Jen Moreau


Mere Presence

Social facilitation is the increased likelihood that someone will perform better at a task because of the mere presence of others. Mere presence can either come in the form of co-actors or an audience.

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Co-actors are people who perform the same task alongside you. A very early study by Norman Triplett in 1898 looked at cyclists. He looked at the differences in times for cycling when alone and when in a group. He found times were 30% less when in a group.

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Drive Theory

However, there is not simply a nice correlation between an audience/co-actors and improved performance. If you are asked to do something completely new for example, your performance would be worse in front of an audience than on your own.

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To help solve this problem, Robert Zajonc (pronounced [zi - ance]) put forward Drive Theory where he used the term dominant response to refer to the behavior we are most likely to perform in a given situation. This is illustrated in the following study by Michaels et al.

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Aim To test the if presence of an audience would facilitate well-learned behaviours and inhibit poorly learned.
Method To begin with, student pool players were observed.

Following this, twelve were chosen: six above and six below average. In the second part four passive observers stood round the table and watched the game.

Results The above average players' accuracy increased from 69 to 80%.

The below average players accuracy fell from 36 to 25%.

Conclusion The results lend support to Zajonc's dominant response theory. The dominant response of skilled pool players is to improve in the presence of an audience, whereas the dominant response of unskilled players is to do worse.
Evaluation The sample used was very small and of a limited demographic (only students)

However, there are some cases where people who are good at their sport do not perform well with an audience but are fine in training. This lead to drive theory to be developed into the inverted You hypothesis which can be represented using the graph below:

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graph demonstrating the inverted U hypothesis

It shows that arousal (more stress, adrenaline etc) will increase with performance until an optimum point where it will decline.

The You of someone who is highly skilled is higher than that of someone unskilled. This explains dominant response; it also means that a well skilled player needs a lot of arousal to get them started in the first place: explaining why world records are often broken at international tournaments like the Olympics.

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Evaluation Apprehension

This theory of social facilitation was put forward by Cottrell, he said that rather than the mere presence of others, it is the worry of being judged that affects performance.

If you are confident in your ability, then being watched makes you perform well, because, in effect, you are showing off. But if you are not confident about the task then you will constantly be worrying about being evaluated. A study for this theory is by Bartis et al (1988)

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Aim To find out whether evaluation apprehension would improve performance on a simple task and inhibit it in a complex one.
Method All particpants had the basic task of thinking of different uses for a knife. However, half were asked to think of creative uses of a knife (complex) and half to merely list all uses of a knife (simple).

These two groups were further divided between those that were told they would be individually identified (evaluation apprehension) and those whose results would be pooled with everybody else's.

Results In the evaluation apprehension condition, the simple task gave more results but the complex task gave fewer uses for a knife.
Conclusions Evaluation apprehension increases performance on simple tasks, but decreases performance on complex.
Evaluation This was again an artificial task performed in a laboratory, so the results are not very relevant to sport.

Distraction Conflict

This is the final major theory of social facilitation. Put forward by Saunders et al (1978), it is based on the following research:

Aim Test the effect of distraction-conflict on performance in a task.
Method Participants were presented with either a simple or difficult task to perform in the presence others who were performing either the same or a different task.
Results Participants in the high distraction condition (with co-actor) performed better on the simple task but worse on the complex.
Conclusion The results provide support for distraction conflict theory.
Evaluation This theory also could explain social facilitation that has been found in animals (for example ants and cockroaches) since these animals can hardly be affected by evaluation apprehension.

The diagram below illustrates how the demands of a task lead to conflict, which produces social facilitation effects.

diagram for distraction conflict

Questions and Answers

Evaluation apprehension and self serving attributions?

Need a clear understanding of how evaluation apprehension reduces tendencies to provide self-serving attributions

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Recent edits by: Jamie (ScienceAid Editor)

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