Psychology Phenomena {26} ~ The Audience Effect/Social Facilitation

Social facilitation is defined as improvement or decrease in individual performance when working with other people rather than alone.

In addition to working together with other people, social facilitation also occurs in the mere presence of other people. Previous research has found that individual performance is improved by coaction, performing a task in the presence of others who are performing a similar task, and having an audience while performing a certain task. An example of coaction triggering social facilitation can be seen in instances where a cyclist’s performance is improved when cycling along with other cyclists as compared to cycling alone. An instance where having an audience triggers social facilitation can be observed where a weightlifter lifts heavier weight in the presence of an audience. Social facilitation has occasionally been attributed to the fact that certain people are more susceptible to social influence, with the argument that personality factors can make these people more aware of evaluation.

The Yerkes-Dodson law, when applied to social facilitation, states that “the mere presence of other people will enhance the performance in speed and accuracy of well-practiced tasks, but will degrade in the performance of less familiar tasks.” Compared to their performance when alone, when in the presence of others they tend to perform better on simple or well-rehearsed tasks and worse on complex or new ones.

The audience effect attempts to explain psychologically why the presence of an audience leads to people performing tasks better in some cases and worse in others. This idea was further explored when some studies showed that the presence of a passive audience facilitated the better performance of a simple task, while other studies showed that the presence of a passive audience inhibited the performance of a more difficult task or one that was not well practiced, possibly due to psychological pressure or stress.

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