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Social Facilitation Literature Review

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In the areas of social and industrial-organizational psychology, the theory of social facilitation is fundamental to understanding the ways in which human beings learn, interact with one another, perform their jobs and certain tasks, and so on. The practical implications of this idea are limitless, as well as its impact on various areas of psychological research. At its core, social facilitation refers to people’s tendencies to perform simple or well-learned tasks better when others are present, and to perform more complicated tasks less effectively (Aiello and Douthitt, 2001). Since Norman Triplett (1898) performed one of social psychologies first ever experiments, countless studies have been conducted either in applied or experimental settings, or with animal or human subjects, examining the causes, effects, and general nature of social facilitation, which has spawned dozens of theories.
In 1898, Norman Triplett, a sports psychologist, conducted an experiment that he claimed demonstrated “the dynamogenic factors in pacemaking and competition” (Triplett, 1898). In this experiment, he told children to wind the string on a fishing reel as quickly as they could and found that children wound faster when they worked with competing co-actors than when they worked alone. He concluded that “the bodily presence of another contestant…serves to liberate latent energy” (Triplett, 1898). This simple experiment may have spawned dozens of subsequent studies, but it wasn’t until Robert Zajonc (1965) that the study of social facilitation really came into its own. Zajonc revolutionized the field when he proposed an explanation that could account for both performance gains and losses (Aiello and
SOCIAL FACILITATION 2
Douhitt, 2001). In his paper, Zajonc discusses audience effects and describes numerous studies in which the results supported the hypothesis that individuals will perform exceedingly better on well-learned tasks when in front of an audience than when alone—because an audience has arousal consequences (Zajonc, 1965). However, it was also seen that, when an individual is learning a new task, the presence of spectators will significantly hinder their ability to learn. Therefore, it can be asserted that, for a student to be most successful, he/she should study alone in an isolated setting, yet, when it comes time to take the exam, he/she should be in the presence of many other students.
Although Zajonc’s audience arousal theory was widely accepted, there were many competing or alternate theories that began to emerge.
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