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Describe and Discuss Social Facilitation Theory

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Describe and discuss social facilitation theory. Refer to empirical evidence in your answer

Social facilitation is the tendency people have to perform better on tasks when in the presence of others than when alone. Social inhibition, on the other hand, is the tendency people have to perform worse on certain tasks when in the presence of others. When in the presence of other people, we automatically become alert, or aroused. The body’s usual response in such situations is called the dominant response.
The dominant response refers to the response that is the most likely response in a given situation. It can be thought of as such: if you’re very good at a task e.g. kicking a ball, then most of the time, when you try to kick the ball, you will kick it well. This might be a result of having practised a lot. In any case, it is the response that you’d most expect the body to give. However, if you were asked to perform a task that you’re very bad at, such as juggling, then the most natural response for the body to give would be to perform badly, because you don’t know how to perform the task very well. In short, for a task that you’re good at, or one that you’ve practised a lot, you will be very good, and so the dominant response will be to perform the task well. For one that you’re not very good at, the dominant response will be to perform badly
People are aroused as a result of being watched by others. Arousal brings out the dominant response in a person. Hence, if a person is performing an easy task in front of others, then the arousal will bring out the dominant response. If a person is performing a difficult task in front of others, the arousal will still bring out the dominant response, which in this case is a bad response.
The behavioural tendencies included in the theory of social facilitation were first observed and studied in the 1890s by a psychological researcher named Norman Triplett. He first noticed the phenomenon among bicycle racers, and tested it by having children perform the simple task of winding thread using a fishing rod and reel. He found that when children worked together, they went much faster than if each completed the task alone. Over the next few decades, it was found that the social facilitation effect occurred regardless of competition, but that it actually harmed performance on complex tasks.
This theory does not explain why people who are very good at a task may still perform badly in front of an audience for example, why a top footballer may play badly in a big match. This might be better explained by the Yerkes Dodson law, which states that performance is poor if arousal is too high or too low; performance is best when arousal is at a moderate or optimum level.
The theory also doesn’t mention anything about what cognitive processes are involved in the level of arousal a person experiences; for example, one person might not be too bothered about the presence of an audience, while another might fear that the audience is judging his/her performance. Factors such as these are better explained by other theories, such as evaluation apprehension.

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