Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Social Loafing on Cognitive Tasks: An Examination of the "Sucker Effect"

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Social loafing (Latane, Williams, & Harkins, 1979) or the "Free Rider Problem" is the finding that people reduce effort when working in a group, compared to when working alone in an attempt to keep an equitable division of labor when completing a task at hand. In other words, participants make a great effort to avoid becoming the "sucker." (Schnake, 1991)

In this study, the causes and potential mediators of social loafing on group tasks which require active cognitive effort.

The subjects (70 upper-class undergraduates) arrived and met another participant (confederate). When the experimenter left the room for a moment, the confederate voiced loudly his/her intention of high or low effort on all tasks. When the confederate stated that their would be a low level of effort on his/her part, social loafing occurred.

In the end, it was found that the equity theory may be the basis for this underlying problem in group processes. When the participants believed that their partners would not loaf, significant social loafing did not occur.

If social loafing in a workplace is a common problem, is there any way that management can come to an amicable yet firm solution?


  1. The article also points out the urge to "hide in the crowd" (Latane, et al., 1979) a further impulse of people when they are put into groups. In addition to the theory of Social Loafing, this natural impulse to hide when all signs seem to allow as much is an additional explanation for the fact that groups breed lack of effort. A further explanation of this is that when working in groups people have a common thought that others will also slack off, most feel that if they also hide and let others do the work they can avoid be the "sucker" of the group. This "sucker" is the person that will ultimately become the one who ends up doing all the work. (Schnake, 1991). This "hide in the crowd" and "sucker" terminology help support the theory of Social Loafing and define it more thoroughly.

  2. Another factor in what may appear to be classified under the sucker effect may be analyzed under the "bystander effect." While it is a different task it still involves group interactions in which it is assumed someone else is more experienced and thus better equipped to perform the task and thus one "hides in the crowd." Latane and Darely performed a study in which a confederate faked a seizure and found that "the more bystanders, the less likely the victim will be helped" (Kassin 360). This knowledge can be applied to the group setting where it may just be assumed someone else will perform the task. This could be out of laziness or the belief that they are not the most capable.

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  4. According to our textbook (pg.263-264) there are several conditions that reduce the occurrence of social loafing.

    1.People believe that their own performance can be identified and thus evaluated, by themselves or others.
    2.The task is important or meaningful to those performing it.
    3.People believe that their efforts are necessary for successful outcome.
    4.The group expects to be punished for poor performance.
    5.The group is small.
    6.The group is cohesive; that is, membership in the group is valuable and important to members, and the individuals like each other.

    I think these conditions can be applied in a workplace by the management and would increase the efforts of individuals in a group setting. For example, lets focus on the 5th and the 6th condition. If the management forms a small group in which they think the individuals value membership, it is less likely that the sucker effect would occur. In comparison, the larger the group is, it’s harder to track individual's actions. As a result, the group loses cohesiveness. In a small group where individuals like each other, they wouldn’t want to let down or disappoint the other group members.

  5. Also in our text book, Social facilitation is unified with social loafing.

    "When individual contributions can be identified (social Facilitation), the presence of others increases arousal and the possibility of being evaluated: The individual is in the spotlight.
    "When individuals contributions are pooled (social loafing), the presence of the others decreases arousal and the possibility of being evaluated: Each persons performance is swallowed up in the group product, and the individual can relax and be lost in the crowd.

    I find that these situations can only be seen in certain settings. In a group of motivated people, the tasks will get done more efficiently than in a group of non motivated people. Also, like in the study, there was sometimes a reward of some sort which made the group work together more, this concept made the group work together to get the task done.

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  7. In “Withholding Effort in Organizations: Toward Development and Validation of a Measure” by Roland E. Kidwell, Jr. and Chet Robie, they explain some ways why there is social loafing n the workplace. The first hypothesis stated is that “if the perceived outcomes of working hard are unfavorable, […] there is little incentive to provide effort, and it is more likely that effort would be withheld” (544). Thus, employers should provide and show employees the linkage between their efforts and the result to prevent social loafing. Secondly, the idea of role ambiguity is brought up. Role Ambiguity is the idea that employees can not predict the outcomes of their own behavior, and thus can not tell if they are behaving appropriately. When there are higher levels of role ambiguity, employees are less likely to understand personal activities at work, related to the task at hand. If the employee understands their role and goals clearly, along with how to do their task successfully; they will be more likely to provide effort. Thirdly, relationships and perceptions of one another in a staff are important. “If employees do not perceive the quality of their relationships with their peers (coworkers) as supportive and helpful in getting the job done and meeting group’s goals, they would be more likely to reduce effort levels” (544). Thus, there are four aspects of peer leadership, which can help with social loafing:
    1. Degree there is support of each other as part of the group.
    2. Degree which the importance of a goal exists
    3. Degree members help each other to improve the work.
    4. Degree when goal members work together
    If social loafing gets bad, it can result in job neglect. “Job neglect is the tendency to passively allow conditions at work to deteriorate through reduced interest or effort" (542). Job neglect can be due to the lack of supervision, pay, and work. It can result things, such as chronic lateness, working more slowly, and using company time for personal issues.


    In Social Loafing: A Field Investigation from the Journal of Management it suggests several ways to decrease social loafing in the workplace.

    -Task visibility- belief that a supervisor is aware of ones effort
    -Task Independence- As individuals perceive their tasks as being more interdependent, it may become in- creasingly difficult for them to feel a sense of personal achievement in one’s work
    -Distributive Justice- the belief that one is being paid according to their worth, has been shown to motivate individuals to put forth effort.
    -Procedural Justice- perceptions of fairness in the procedures or policies used to make personnel decisions, such as determining the system for distributing rewards