Short definitions -
  • Social facilitation is when others' presence facilitates or affects our performance, in a good or bad way.
  • Social loafing is when in a group of hardworking people, some find a way to sit back and do nothing, thinking it wouldn't make much difference if they didn't contribute.

We are sure you all have experienced or have been a victim of social facilitation and social loafing many a time! This is a very common phenomenon occurring in our lives very often. Then, we just didn't have the right name for it. But as we study today about these two terms, we will get to know what a big difference others' presence can make in our lives, be it good or bad, we realize that we do need people around us, and their mere presence can play with our minds defining our behavior, improving or deteriorating our performance.

Let us take you years back from now, when you were in school, or college. We will take the same example for both the terms, to get a better understanding of social facilitation vs. social loafing.

Social facilitation

This is a theory which states that a person's performance depends a lot on somebody else' presence. Depending on the situation, the task he is given - simple or complex, will decide if his performance becomes better or worse in the presence of people. Know in detail about social facilitation @ The Social Facilitation Theory in Psychology

For example

1. In your class, when you were asked to solve an easy problem on the board, in front of other students and the teacher, you were pretty confident about yourself and it didn't require much of your attention and focus. You solved it correctly and maybe in less time than required. Here you performed better.

2. In your class, when you were asked to solve a complex problem on the board, in front of other students and the teacher, you probably got scared to get up and go towards the board, thinking you might make a mistake. However, you still managed to gather all your strength to do so.
When you reached the board, two things were bothering you:
  • How to solve this complex problem?
  • What will happen if I'm unable to solve it? What impression would it make on the teachers and the students? What if they laugh at my stupidity?
Now your mind was divided into thinking about both the complex problem, and the presence of others. This made you nervous, giving less attention to the main area of concern - the problem. Thus you performed worse, where you could've performed better if you were alone, with undivided attention.

Social loafing

This theory states that a person in a group of people working on the same project, may not strive to achieve the expected goal. His contributions might be lesser than the others, resulting in less effective output. This can be one big reason behind 'not a very good performance' from a group as compared to their individual capabilities. Now the question arises why would people not give in their 100% in a group? The answer can be quite a few things:
  • People think their contributions might not really matter in a group of brilliantly working people, and so they either tend to pretend they work, or just don't get into anything, quietly taking credits for group performances. But they forget that a group was made to give better performances with a mix of everybody's efforts.
  • People just take advantage of others in a group, not helping them out with work, instead leisurely spend their time on works of their interest.
For example

1. Working on a project or an assignment in a group of 4 or 5 in school, you might very well remember, there were one or two such people who wouldn't work at all. They would just sit and watch while you racked your brains on your project!

2. In a rope pulling example that was conducted to test social loafing, it was found out that few exerted less effort along with people as compared to that when they pulled individually!

Social loafing follows the 'free-rider' theory, resulting in the 'sucker-effect'. It mainly happens due to people not being able to evaluate and calculate their contributions towards a given work, and hence they feel they shouldn't contribute at all, as it wouldn't matter to the group.

While social facilitation is a behavioral aspect which may not require intervention, social loafing has to be dealt with to enhance group performances. There are ways to deal with social loafing that should be put into practice right from a very early stage of life, so that we learn to work and give our best in a group. Assigning each member of the group with equal value tasks, or compensating the less important task by increasing the quantity of easy tasks is one way of dealing with it. In this way, every individual will do their work without feeling less significant. The lesser the strength of the group the better it will perform. This is not just a saying, but it actually works, since every person gets the right amount of work to fulfill. Giving feedback and rewards once in a while for every individual's work, will also motivate him to keep doing better than before.