Abstract tasks while they decrease the performance

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Since social facilitation and drive theory postulate that audience enhances performances of easy tasks and complicates the performance complex task, the experiment examines conditions under which the performance is optimum. To determine conditions for optimum performance, 10 university students participated in three experiments under three different experimental conditions, namely, no audience condition, audience condition and audience condition with competition. The results reveal that optimum performance occurs in audience condition, followed by no audience condition and least performance in audience condition with competition. The results were not consistent with social facilitation and drive theory and thus further studies need to include more participants and consider confounding variables. .


Psychologists and sociologists have established that social facilitation enhances performance of easy tasks and complicates performance of hard tasks. According to the drive theory, social facilitation is critical in determining the performance of tasks. The theory postulates that audience has both negative and positive influence on a person performing a given task, meaning that performance of tasks depends on the nature of the task and the effects of audience on the performer.

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Sanna explains social facilitation from drive’s perspective saying that, “…the presence of others, as an audience or as co-actors, arouses a performer’s generalized drive, which increases the emission of dominant responses …when the dominant responses are correct, as on simple or well-learned tasks, performance would be improved in the presence of other” (1992, p.774). Therefore, audience and competitors increase the performance of simple and easy tasks while they decrease the performance of the hard and complex tasks. Social facilitation theory originated from the work of Norman Triplett in 1890s when he observed children racing their bicycles and noted that fast racing occurred when there is competition.

From this observation, Triplett realized that social facilitation is responsible for the fast racing of bicycles and went further to explore the phenomena by conducting more experiments. In his experiment of children turning fishing reel, Triplett confirmed that competition and social facilitation are two factors that enhance performances of the children when doing simple tasks such as cycling and turning fish reel. “Triplett suggested that the sight or sound of another’s movement might strengthen the idea of movement and thereby increase energy and motivate greater effort. His notion of increased energy may have developed into what was later conceptualized as arousal” (Aiello & Douthitt, 2001, p.

164). Thus, the work of Norman Triplett forms the basis of social facilitation theory that supports that audience and the nature of tasks determines the performance of a person. Subsequently, sociological and psychological researchers came up with social facilitation theory based on the foundation work of Norman Triplett. In 1920, Allport designed experiments to differentiate competition and social facilitation in order to validate the effect of social facilitation on the performance of various tasks. “Allport wanted to learn about the more basic social influences of others on individual performance and he therefore, attempted to design experiments that would minimize competition effects…he instructed his participants to avoid comparing themselves to others” (Seta & Seta, 1995, p.105).

He found out that, social facilitation and nature of tasks are critical determinants that influence performance of various tasks. In 1965, Robert Zajonc conceptualized social facilitation as a social drive and formulated drive theory, which elucidates how individuals behave and respond to certain tasks in presence of audience. The work of Zajonc revolutionized social facilitation theory and drive theory has become integral part in the analysis of social influences on the performance of simple tasks. Current studies have established that, “task complexity, evaluation context, and type of presence are some of the factors that researchers have demonstrated to moderate the impact of presence on performance.

Social facilitation theory now refers not only to performance enhancements, but also to impairments…,” (Aiello, & Douthitt, 2001, p.164). Thus, social facilitation theory posits that complexity of the tasks and the nature of audience are prime determinants of individual’s performance of tasks. Based on the social facilitation theory and drive theory, this study aims at establishing the nature of audience that significantly enhances social facilitation.

The study used three groups of subjects in the experiment who participated by filling simple words puzzle and their performance measured using time. The three groups of subjects participated in three different experimental conditions viz. no audience condition, audience condition, and audience condition with competition. No audience condition acted as a control study for comparative studies of audience condition and audience condition with competitor to establish if there is any significant variability in performance. The study hypothesized that participants’ performances in the audience condition with competition are better than the performances in no audience condition and audience condition of the experiment.



The experiment consisted of 10 participants; five of them were females, and five males. To avoid biasness in the kind of participants selected, the experimenter randomly selected participants from the students of the University of Queensland who volunteered to participate in the experiment. Moreover, to encourage effective participation, the experimenter offered incentives to the participants for volunteering to participate.

The experiment had three conditions, no audience condition, audience condition and audience condition with competition in which all the subjects participated in each.


The objective of the experiment was to establish if there is any significance association between audience effect and performance. To achieve the objective, experimental design used three experimental conditions as independent variables and performance of the participants in terms of time as dependent variables. The experimental design had three conditions, the first one with no audience condition, the second one is audience condition, and the third one is audience condition with competition presented. Therefore, the experiment was a 3-level design.


The experiment used materials such as words puzzle and timers. There were three kinds of words puzzles specific to each of the three conditions of the experiment. The participants, audience and experimenter also had timers, which they used to time the rate of predominance under the three experimental conditions.

While the participants filled easy word puzzle, the experimenter and the audience measured the period that participants took to complete the puzzle. Moreover, after the participants finished the experiment, they filled a questionnaire to tell how hard they found the experiment, how they felt competitiveness, and how distracted they were when doing the experiment. The questionnaire details provided the information for manipulation check by the experimenters.


The experimenter invited the 10 participants into one of study room in the library of University of Queensland. The study room offered the best venue for the experiment because it was a decent, spacious, and quiet place; hence, there was minimal noise that could distract the participants during the experiment. Moreover, the experimenter directed the participants to complete the words puzzle in three conditions. The first was a no audience condition, where participants did the experiment and timed themselves for the period they took to solve the words puzzle. The second was an audience condition, where participants did the experiment in front of audience and the experimenter did the timing.

The third was the audience condition with competition, where two participants did the experiment at the same time without knowing they were actually competing. The experimenter recorded performances of the participants in terms of time and asked participants to complete manipulation check sheet that is essential in determining complexity of the tasks. The experimenter eventually analysed collected data statistically using hand calculations and Microsoft Excel programme.


The results in the table below show the time that each participant took at each condition of the experiment. The results are contrary to the hypothesis that participants’ performances in the audience condition with competitor are better than the performance in no audience condition and audience condition of the experiment. Time taken for finishing the word searchParticipantsGenderCondition 1 (Alone)Condition 2 (Audience-Experimenter)Condition 3 (Competitor-Confederate)1M01:05.4400:5501:12.72F01:1500:49.500:46.13M00:43.100:44.401:19.44F01:0000:34.800:555F01:35.81:14.900:38.16M01:0800:521:017F01:1200:5900:578M01:1900:5700:479F01:041:001:0510M01:1600:5300:51


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