A term coined by Floyd Allport, social facilitation refers to a social phenomenon that presence of others may produce enhanced performance in individuals (Hogg & Cooper, 2007). This phenomenon could be complicated because the presence of others sometimes facilitates performance but sometimes hinders.
To study and understand social facilitation, scientists developed various theories, one of which is Robert Zajonc’s drive theory. The drive theory emphasizes on arousal effects and dominant responses. According to the drive theory, the presence of others, either as an audience or co-actors, increases arousal and this, in turn, strengthens the tendency to perform dominant responses. If these responses are correct, performance is improved; if they are incorrect, performance is harmed. (Baron & Branscombe, 2012, p. 375)
The mere presence effect is directly related to social facilitation as the core aspect of this facilitation phenomenon. Mere presence simply means that people present as a passive audience or as co-actors and they do not compete, do not reward or punish, and in fact do nothing. The drive theory explained that the mere presence of other people may enhance or hinder an individual’s performance.
An experience of social facilitation in my life is that, when I was a software systems consultant, I worked on software development projects sometimes by myself and sometimes with a team of other software engineers. When I worked together with others in the same project, I often speeded up my assignment to make sure I kept the pace with the progress of others even though there was no competition within the team. I believe my performance was enhanced because I usually completed my tasks ahead of schedule. However, such social facilitation might also cause increase of stress and negatively affect the quality of end product.
Baron, R. A. & Branscombe, N. R. (2012). Social psychology (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Hogg, M. A., & Cooper, J. (Eds.). (2007). The sage handbook of social psychology: Concise student edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.