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Robert B. Zajonc on Social Facilitation - Dictionary of Arguments

Haslam I 23
Social Facilitation/Zajonc: Problem: Although many early studies established performance gains in the presence of others (e.g., F. Allport, 1920)(1), many were also starting to document situations in which the presence of others actually reduced performance (Dashiell, 1935)(2).
This inconsistency in findings was somewhat stifling to research on social facilitation through the 1940s and 1950s until Robert Zajonc proposed an ingenious integration in Zajonc (1965()3). He noted that a key idea from drive theory was that arousal tended to facilitate dominant responses (Hull, 1935(4); Spence, 1956(5)). Dominant responses on simple or well-learned tasks are likely to be correct, whereas dominant responses on complex or unfamiliar tasks are likely to be either incorrect or inefficient. Zajonc reasoned that the presence of other people can serve as a source of arousal, and should thereby enhance performance on simple or well-learned tasks and reduce it on complex or unfamiliar tasks.
This insight appeared to provide a neat explanation of the existing social facilitation research and stimulated a wealth of additional work. A number of later theories were then developed in an attempt to clarify what it is about the presence of others that creates drive or arousal, as well as to articulate additional process variables, moderators, or limiting conditions of social facilitation (for reviews, see Geen, 1991(6); Guerin, 1993(7)).


1. Allport, F.H. (1920) ‘The influence of the group upon association and thought’, Journal of Experimental Psychology, 3(3): 159–82.
2. Allport, F.H. (1920) ‘The influence of the group upon association and thought’, Journal of Experimental Psychology, 3(3): 159–82.
3. Zajonc, R.B. (1965) ‘Social facilitation’, Science, 149: 269–74.
4. Hull, C.L. (1935) ‘The conflicting psychologies of learning: A way out’, Psychological Review, 42: 491–516.
5. Spence, K.W. (1956) Behavior Theory and Conditioning. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
6. Geen, R.G. (1991) ‘Social motivation’, Annual Review of Psychology, 42: 377–99.
7. Guerin, B. (1993) Social Facilitation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.


Steven J. Karau and Kipling D. Williams, “Social Facilitation and Social Loafing. Revisiting Triplett’s competition studies”, in: Joanne R. Smith and S. Alexander Haslam (eds.) 2017. Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Zajonc, Robert B.
Haslam I
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017


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