C. Modern Applications

    The day has come for the race you have been anticipating for a long time. You’ve been practicing intensely, day after day, mile after mile, to prove your worth in this one race. As you step up to the starting line, you look around and realize that the sidelines are crowded with friends, classmates, strangers, and parents. You feel the weight of their stares on you as you wait for the gunshot that signals the start of the race. You experience an adrenaline rush like no other, but you are confident. After the race, you recieve your time and realize that you broke your personal record by 2 minutes compared to when you train by yourself.


Have you ever experienced a similar situation in a sport? Triplett and Zajonc studied this fascinating phenomena in order to make sense of why people, and in Zajonc’s case, even cockroaches, behave this way. This behavior is coined the term social facilitation, the tendency for people to do better on simple or well-learned tasks in the presence of others (McLeod, 2011). Social facilitation is what people experience on a day to day basis, whether it be in sports, taking major tests, making speeches, or other tasks that have been thoroughly practiced. A modern example where social facilitation is prominently observed is in the professional sports industries. NBA athletes most likely perform at their peak, or even better, in the presence of a roaring, cheering crowd. A person that rehearses for a speech multiple times will feel natural and more enthusiastic when the time comes to recite in front of a large crowd. These are all contemporary examples of social facilitation in which a well learned task is enhanced by the presence of others. On the other hand, according to Zajonc’s  Activation theory, complex tasks are made even more difficult in the presence of others. Examples of this include being spontaneously asked to help an injured person without having any knowledge of how to do so. In the presence of a crowd of staring people, this task will become even more difficult because not only are you inexperienced, but the presence of others hinders you by making you doubt your abilities and causing you to feel constantly judged (Myers et al, 2002).


Today, the social facilitation theory is also applicable in organizations, such as schools or in the workplace. For instance, to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of learning in students, factors such as classroom size, the level of monitoring the students, and groupwork are some examples that can prove to have an impact on the students’ performance. Organizations that are striving for better performance from employees/workers can also utilize the social facilitation theory through factors such  as “collaboration procedures or performance evaluation approaches” (Aiello, 2001).

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