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Social Facilitation

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Is Social Facilitation a result of feeling observed? Discuss in relation to available theory and evidence. This essay will discuss Social Facilitation, and if it has been proven to be the result of feeling observed. A number of theories and models explaining this phenomenon will be analyzed, along with studies which support these. These theories will be discussed in chronological order starting with the earliest, as this will help understand how these explanations have developed. Social Facilitation has been stated to be that 'An audience usually enhances the performance of an accomplished professional. But its effect on novices is not always beneficial therefore an audience can evidently inhibit as well as facilitate' (Allport, 1920 as cited in Gleitman, 1991, p.510). Social facilitation is the performance enhancing effects of an audience on a person's behavior. It refers to the tendency of people to perform better on tasks which are straightforward or well practiced when in the presence of an audience. Social inhibition is also defined as being the result of feeling observed, but is in contrast with facilitation, it is the tendency of people to do worse than they would do on their own at difficult or un- learned tasks. ...read more.


Social facilitation has been demonstrated by Zajonc and others in a wide range of species, including roaches, laboratory rats, ants, chicks and humans. Yerkes- Dodson Law developed by Robert Yerkes and J.D Dodson in 1908, dictates what Zajonc added to social facilitation research. It also states that performance increases with physiological and mental arousal, but that when the levels become too high performance decreases. Research has found that different levels of arousal are required for difficult tasks, in order for there to be optimal performance. For example, tasks demanding stamina or persistence may be performed better with higher levels of arousal, as this is more than likely to increase motivation. Whereas an intellectually difficult task may require a lower level of arousal, so that the performer can facilitate concentration. But Zajonc's Drive Theory has been criticized as it is only based on the presence of the audience, and no interaction between the audience and performer is included. Another model which has extended Zajonc's work is the Evaluation Apprehension; this was introduced to social facilitation theories by Cottrell (1972). He agrees that people are aroused in the presence of others but suggests that this is due to our need for social approval, or perceived rewards rather than punishment. ...read more.


More recently Baron (1986) suggested that cognitive processes, such as attention and distraction in a situation influences performance. A theory which supports Baron's suggestion is Distraction Conflict Theory, which was put forward by Saunders et al (1978). This is when for example, a person is performing a task and the mere presence of others creates conflict between concentrating on the task and concentrating on the other people. This conflict is thought to increase arousal which leads to social facilitation. Social facilitation has been shown to be the result of feeling observed but many factors may influence this, as it may depend on the individual's perception of the audience. There may be a number of causal factors for this process, such as mere presence, evaluation apprehension, competition and cognitive processes, such as attention and distraction. The evaluation apprehension model shows that social facilitation is not the result of the audience being present, it is the result of 'feeling' observed, because the audience has to be attentive. Each model has introduced different factors into why and how an audience causes social facilitation, but whether the feeling of being observed causes arousal through conflict or arousal through worry it is clear that feeling observed results in social facilitation. ...read more.

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