Zajonc, R. B. (1965). Social facilitation. Science, 149, 269-274.

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In what has been termed the first social psychological experiment, Norman Triplett (1898) showed that the presence of others increased performance by an individual, through what was presumed to be increased competition or motivation. However, research by Zajonc, Heingartner, and Herman (1969) argued that such conscious, cognitive processes weren’t necessarily an important component, as cockroaches, which presumably do not have the same conscious processes as humans, showed the same social facilitation effect. In this same experiment, Zajonc and colleagues also found that the cockroach’s performance decreased in the presence of other cockroaches when the task was particularly difficult. In the landmark article, “Social facilitation”, Robert Zajonc offered the theoretical explanation that the presence of others increases physiological arousal. During this state of arousal, he argued that performance increases when task is easy or familiar, while performance decreases when a task is difficult or unknown. As such, social facilitation effects came to be understood based on two components: the presence of others and the ease of the task for the individual.

This article was a classic in social psychology because the proposed theory brought together seemingly incongruent research which suggested that the presence of others either helped or hurt performance. Future studies were prompted which tried to further delineate the mechanisms of Zajonc’s theory between the mere presence of others and the active judgment of one’s performance by others. The theory also led to extended research on the role of physical arousal in performance.

References and Related Articles:

Triplett, N. (1898). The dynamogenic factors in pacemaking and competition. American Journal of Psychology, 9, 507-533

Zajonc, R.B., Heingartner, A., & Herman, E.M. (1969). Social enhancement and impairment of performance in the cockroach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 13, 83-92.

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