Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Are Two Heads Better than One? (PDF) is an article by Rebecca Thompson from the Pyschologist Journal that discusses group processes with a focus on Collaborative memory.

Through a series of archival studies she compares group strategies of pooling vs. collaboration and the situations in which each prove to be more successful than other. A study by Taylor et al. (1958) and Dunnette et al. (1963) resulted in the nominal group (from pooling ideas together), brainstorming more solid ideas as opposed to the collaborative group attempting to simultaneously brainstorm together. Similar results were retrieved from studying other tasks including story recalling (Andersson & Ronnberg, 1996).

The ‘social loaf’ (Latane, Williams & Harkins, 1979) provides a theory that is used to explain this observation where individuals within the group experience reduced pressure to perform and assume less personal responsibility towards the task with the attitude that other members will take care of it.

However there are certain situations in which group work could attain a higher level of success. The Zajonc solution (1968) provides the dividing formula where easy tasks are facilitated with the correct response and performance is enhanced. Difficult tasks on the contrary are inhibited with an incorrect response and performance is impaired.

Thompson also continues to explore the effects of familiarity of group members, the type of tasks and other individual differences. She believes it is better to collaborate for general knowledge or shared personal experiences as opposed to memorizing new material (which is done better at an individual level). This conclusion is based on her reasoning and archival research however she did not provide any observational/ experimental evidence to support this.

It is interesting to look back at the posters we made in small groups at the beginning of the semester and realize how many of the ‘Effective Methods to Change Social Behaviour’ were used in this collaborative group setting. When we then attempted to recall these methods as a nominal group, we just had an undocumented experiment conducted on us.

Rebecca Thompson concludes: “With the right cooks and the right combination of ingredients, the broth has the potential to be very good indeed!”

When looking for “right cooks” are there specific characteristics within individuals that make them more suited for collaborative work as opposed to individual work? Or are the same individuals better all round (working collaboratively and individually)? Does the success of a collaborative task reflect the collective strengths or the most dominant strength?


  1. While the same may or may not be true for adults, research on group work in elementary level students suggests that children of all ability levels, genders and personality types benefit equally from cooperative and collaborative group work (Palincsar, Herrenkohl 1999, Slavin et all 2008). The issue however, is that in the majority of classrooms, when asked to do group work students will sit in groups but not collaborate as a group. This can be attributed partly to the emphasis on a teacher-child relationship over the students relationship to their peers. It is also due to many teachers lack of preparation in the use of group work. When implemented correctly all students have equal potential to excel at and grow through academic group work (Baines, Blatchford, Chowne 2007).

  2. Interestingly, social loafing is prevalent in online classes and groups as well, just like the studies conducted on it in face-to-face group interactions in classrooms and labs. A study on online groupwork with U.S. Naval War College and public university students shows that social loafing takes place in groups even when they are not interacting face-to-face (i.e. on the Internet). In the study, 8% of the Naval War College Students and 77,4% of the public university students perceived that other group members were social loafing, though only a small percentage reported their own social loafing (mainly because they were not aware of it or were too ashamed to admit to it). Another interesting factor the study considered was the perception of distribution of rewards to each group member- when group members felt that reward distribution is equal/just, social loafing decreased, and vice-versa (Piezon, Ferree, 2008). The study also hinted at some kind of correlation with dominance/aggression affecting group interactions (and perhaps social loafing), though that aspect wasn’t really studied in depth yet nor was heavily focused on in the study.

    I think it would be interesting to see other factors being studied as far as social loafing goes- for example, it would be nice to see how aggression and/or dominance factors into social loafing, or perhaps how cultural differences factor in as well.

    P.S. Does anyone know why Blogger refuses to allow for HTML code/tags/URL links in comments? I’m getting really irritated because it’s not allowing me to use tags to link right to the reference while I’m mentioning it in my post. :|

  3. I think having successful teamwork depends on cultural and individual differences. People in a collectivist society tend to be more cooperative with their members and friends, while an individualistic society seemed to be less cooperative. (Oyserman et al., 2002). This was shown in the Prisoner’s Dilemma Experiment by Rosana Yin-mei Wong and Ying-Yi Hong (2005). Hong Kong Chinese college students that were considered bicultural played a a prisoner’s dilemma game with either friends or strangers, but before they played, they were exposed to one of three sets of pictures; one associated with Chinese culture, one associated to American culture, and one that was neutral. Students that were exposed to the Chinese or neutral symbols while playing with friends had more cooperativeness as to the students that were exposed to the American symbols. However, there was no significant difference in cooperativeness when playing with a stranger.
    Also even within a culture, people have individual differences as well. “People with a prosocial, cooperative orientation seek to maximize joint gains or achieve equal outcomes, those with an individualist orientation seek to maximize their own gain, and those with a competitive orientation seek to maximize their own gain relative to that of others.” (De Cremer and Van Lange, 2001).

  4. In research undertaken by Tina Robbins and reported as ‘Social Loafing on Cognitive Tasks: An Examination of the “Sucker Effect”, it was found that contrary to previous research, social loafing on tasks requiring active cognitive effort did occur. This was despite the task being thought provocating, personally involving and providing the opportunity for unique contributions to the task. Robbins suggests that equity theory, which has been supported as a reason for social loafing in physical tasks, may also be the basis for loafing on cognitive tasks. No significant loafing occurred when subjects believed their partners would not loaf.
    In her discussion Robbins also mentions the possible effects of different cultures, and one of the comments already made about this post, also highlight this issue.
    Does the more collectivist culture encourage people to work effectively and efficiently on group tasks, more so than the more individualistic type of culture? Also, the idea of being the ‘sucker’ seems to me to be more typical of an individualistic society.

  5. “social loafing” is interesting effect in social psychology, when in larger groups people do not contribute as much believing that as an individual we will not be evaluated we don’t feel the need to perform as much as if we were doing the task alone. I think this idea of deindividuation is interesting and can be related to the composition of the group and the effectiveness of their production. Irving Janis looked at the idea of groupthink (1982) which is more about the composition of a group rather than “social loafing” but still applies. Janis said that people isolated from other people with the same backgrounds, and lead by a strong leader will tend to come to agreement on a decision on a situation without proper research or understanding of the issue at hand, this seems like it could be a sort of social loafing directly related to group composition when the need for agreement takes priority over the motivation to obtain accurate information.

  6. "social loafing" is a perfect example of a social psychology theory in which falls true but is greatly affected by the smallest change in factors and circumstance.
    Because it is also affected by things like the relationships in which the group members have with one another, if they perhaps feel the weight of someone else's performance and feel the need to personally perform and do well in order to push these results upward (for example if it is a small group and the members are friends). Also, it is affected by how big the group is and whether or not they are emotionally driven by the task at hand and whether or not they enjoy it.

    I think this works at answering the questions that every individual is in fact different in working in groups and contributing to a group.

    Although social loafing clearly exists generally, it is clear that group processes, intergroup contact theory and many other group social psychology theories are still being researched and are still very complex today because it really is effected by the way in which the group is composed. Rebecca Thompson's quote (from above) therefore does stand true and extremely relevant when she says: “With the right cooks and the right combination of ingredients, the broth has the potential to be very good indeed!” but what is the hard part is determining what is defined as 'right'.

    However social loafing although to do with group processes also may be somehow related to the chapter on 'helping others' whereby the bystander effect is when 'the presence of others inhibits helping'. As social beings, it is evident here that no matter what situation we are greatly affected by the presence of others, that pressure is greatly felt when alone rather when part of a group.