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Individuals engage in social loafing when working in a group. ‘Socialloafing’ is the term used to describe the decrease in an individual’s effortwhen performing in a group setting compared to when the individual performsalone (Ying, Li, Jiang, Peng, & Lin,2014).

This socialphenomenon was coined in 1913 by Maximilien Ringelmann , however this area ofsocial psychology was not studied until much later.  Questions about how social loafing occurs andwhat causes it has been surrounding the phenomenon ever since it wasidentified. Common questions were along the lines of ‘does social loafing occurbecause it allows individuals to blend in with a crowd?’ and ‘is it justlaziness?’.

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A very early experiment (Petty, Harkins, Williams, , 1977) foundthat cognitive tasks involving group work were just as likely to be prone tosocial loafing as physical tasks. Students were divided into three groups,group one being asked to edit a poem believing that they were solely responsiblefor completion of this task, group two consisting of four students and groupthree consisting of sixteen students. Five years later, another studyreplicated Petty, Harkins, Williams & Latanésresults with added rewards and individual feedback in the form of cheering andclapping. This study made it clear that social loafing wasn’t just a form ofbad co-ordination between group members or task difficulty and highlighted thehuge social implications and negative consequences of the phenomenon.This literature review will exclude literature completed after Williamsand Karau’s 1993 literature review unless said literature is needed to definean aspect of discussion. Availability of sources after 1993 are plentiful,however, finding primary, peer-reviewed research papers or books within the allottedtime period was difficult.

This literature review will focus on how socialloafing occurs and what could help prevent it, limitations in current researchand areas for future study and improvement. In general, findings were thatsocial loafing is caused by higher rates of self-validation, bigger groupsizes,  task interdependence anddifficulty, fatigue, gender and the ‘sucker effect’. Recent literature has added to our understanding of how socialloafing occurs, what contributes to it and what doesn’t. A study by George (1995) that built upon and reinforced earlier studies results administered448 salespersons in groups of four to twenty members with  the Contingent Reward Behaviour, ContingentPunishment Behaviour and Non-contingent Reward and Punishment scales. Social loafingwas measured by each individual salesperson’s supervisors with J. M. George’sSocial Loafing Scale.

George found that rewards from a supervisor to anemployee based on their performance has a negative effect on social loafing,whereas non-contingent rewards did not have a negative effect. However, Georgediscovered the opposite for punishments- coming to the conclusion thatlong-term effects of punishment are not as efficient or as effective as abehaviour based reward system. A hypothesis proposed in 1998 posed the question of whether or notthe degree of self-validation affected whether or not an individual would engagein social loafing (Charbonnier, Huguet, Brauer, &Monteil). 72individuals aged 18-22 years were examined whilst they performed a taskindividually or within a group. These undergraduates were then asked toself-rate on a scale of their personal abilities.

Social loafing was found tobe higher in individuals who viewed themselves as ‘better’ than others, suggestingthat an individual’s feeling of ‘uniqueness’ is a significant contributor tosocial loafing. Social loafing was examined in twenty three pre-existing work groupsin two different companies consisting of 168 employees instead of the morecommonly examined student participants in 2004. Researchers found that taskinterdependence contributes positively to social loafing. An individual’sperception of a fair distribution of rewards and task visibility was found tohave a negative association with social loafing.

Procedural justice had noeffect on whether an individual would engage in social loafing or not (Liden, Wayne, Jaworski, &Bennett, 2004).Individual level findings all reinforced and supported earlier studies on eachof the particular phenomenon.  Resultsalso found that on the group level, group size is positively correlated tosocial loafing and group cohesiveness is negatively correlated to socialloafing, again supporting and replicating previous’ studies results.Unexpectedly, co-workers social loafing was negatively associated with socialloafing, in contradiction to the findings of earlier studies. Liden, WayneJaworksi & Bennett proposed that this particular finding may contributeevidence towards a social compensation effect. The positive relationship between group size and social loafing wasalso examined by a group of researchers in 2016. 72 participants with anaverage age of 21.7 years were asked to pull a role individually and again in agroup.

Groups ranging from two to six excluding a five member group were createdwith individuals with and without previous sports experience respectively. Eachteam’s achievements were recorded as individuals and computed into the expectedvalue. The team’s achievements were then compared to this number. The studyfound that previous experience in team sports had a significantly lower socialloafing rate, introducing a new aspect to consider when discussing how to preventthe effect of social loafing (Czyz, Szmajke, Kruger, , 2016). However,this study focused on mainly younger adults and would benefit from a morediverse and greater range of participants.64 male students worked without sleep or interruptions for 20 hoursunder different social conditions in two experiments in order to determinewhether fatigue was a contributor to social loafing (Hoeksema-van Orden, Gaillard, , 1998). Thefirst experiment had participants work individually or as a group, andexperiment two had individuals participate in groups only after beinginstructed that public feedback would be provided about the groups orindividual’s performances.

The first experiment found that performancedeteriorated over time in the group condition which found increased socialloafing, whereas that once individual results were released publicly inexperiment two, performance deteriorated less. It also found that even simpletasks were more likely to invite social loafing when fatigued. Overall, theresults appeared to confirm that fatigue does increase social loafing, and thatcausing group work to be individualised and providing feedback publiclydecreases social loafing. However this study only included male students and individualisinggroup work cannot always be replicated in real life, leaving much room forimprovement and the inability to truly know whether these results would beaccurately recreated in society.The Social Loafing Tendency Questionnaire was found to be areliable and capable method of measuring an individual’s propensity to socialloaf as a habitual response.

The results from this study found that the SocialLoafing Tendency Questionnaire negatively predicted an individual’s performancein a group setting, providing support for social loafing as a habitual response(Ying et al., 2014). Limitations in this study again include participant samples fromone university’s students, small sample size and an insufficient Social LoafingTendency Questionnaire in evaluating social loafing. Another study from 2007also provided support for this hypothesis, where 5 year old children’sperformance on an easy puzzle with a partner was poorer with no evaluation thanwith evaluation (Arterberry, Cain, & Chopko,2007). However,this study also found that performance with a partner with evaluation on a hardpuzzle was worse than without evaluation, suggesting that task difficulty againplays a major role in social loafing. As previously mentioned, group size is a primary factor in socialloafing. When combined with team dispersion and technology based teams, thetheory of moral disengagement brings about a hypothesis that dehumanisation,attribution of blame and diffusion of responsibility will moderate team sizeand diffusion as a factor of social loafing. 140 students were randomlyselected and assigned to 32 separate teams and performed a brainstormingactivity.

The hypothesis was partially supported by the results, with onlydehumanisation fully mediating the effect of team dispersion on social loafing (Alnuaimi, Robert, & Maruping,2010). However,the ‘dispersed’ teams in the study were distributed throughout the samebuilding rather than across a country as a real technology based work environmentmay be, and the participant sample again contained students within the same agegroup. Gender appears to play a substantial role in social loafing accordingto a study completed in 1997. 18 men and 18 women were divided into equal groupbefore being asked to pull a rope. 12 trials took place with only 2 beingindividual, and during the group trials participants believed only the group’sperformance were being recorded. Results showed that men tended to show lesseffort once the change from individual work to group work took place, and thatwomen did not have the same change in performance (Kugihara, 1999).

However, Kugihara identified that different gender roles andachievement motivation amongst Japanese women may be the cause of thedifference in findings. The ‘sucker effect’ was defined by Kerr in 1983 in response to whenan individual would reduce their efforts in group work once they noticed thattheir partner or partners had done the same, in order to avoid being “taken fora sucker”. Kerr found that partners who were unable to do the work were notincluded in this effect, and that partners who would overachieve often wouldincrease the likelihood of social loafing for their team mates. The suckereffect was examined later by Eder & Eisenberger in 2008, where individualemployees who felt that their workplace valued their contributions were lesslikely to engage in social loafing. Another study discussed social loafing as arevenge motive both for individuals and the workplace for the sucker effect orany perceived counterproductive behaviours in the workplace. However, thisstudy had a very small sample size and was based in Taiwan, a country whoseculture values groups over individual interests (Hung, Chi, & Lu, 2009).            Finally, a study by Bluhm in 2009examined whether social loafing could be of a benefit to society.

This studyfocused on the hypothesis that social loafing was a strategy employees used toprevent burn out and to conserve energy for individual projects, and that groupwork would still be completed as expected. This paper was entirely theoretical however, although it does contributea new perspective to the study of the social loafing phenomenon.              The study of social loafing hascertainly shown growth over the years since it was first defined in 1913.

Researchershave since been able to prove the existence of the social phenomenon throughdiscovering what personality and contextual factors contribute to it, and bygradually uncovering the mechanisms by which it works, can now move on tocreate and implement interventions that target such mechanisms. There is asignificant lack in studies with sufficient and diverse participant ranges,additional studies with randomized participants (more specifically age range,education level and occupation) will help develop and replicate how socialloafing works in the real world.  Furtherresearch on whether social loafing can be a positive to society would also bewarranted. As with all expanding fields, further research and understandingwill greatly contribute to developing a comprehensive view of social loafing.

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