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An investigation into the effect of social loafing
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Psychology
Jan 9th, 2020

An investigation into the effect of social loafing

The aim of this experiment was to measure the effect of two categories, group or individuals, and the effect they have on the performance of individuals. Participants were involved in the activity of unscrambling as many words as they could in the time limit of five minutes. The hypothesis is that the mean number of words unscrambled by participants working individually is higher than the mean number of words unscrambled by participants working in a group.

The experiment consisted of 19 participants which included 10 males and 9 females. The rights of the participants were taken into consideration throughout the whole experiment. Nine of the participants who were selected randomly were divided into groups of three while the other ten participants worked individually. They were given a list of 26 words to unscramble. The number of words which they were able to unscramble in five minutes was then collected and counted to measure the performance of those who are working individually and those working in groups.

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The results show that the average number of words found for those who were working individually was 12.4 words while the average number of words found per individual who were working in groups were 5.22 words. This shows that the experiment supports the social loafing theory. The significance level were calculated to be p < 0.005. This means that the probability that the results were because of chance was less than 0.5%. The results were highly significant. Thus, according to the results of the statistical test, the research hypothesis is supported while the null hypothesis is rejected.

The theory of social loafing is evident in a lot of situations in life. Social loafing is a reduction in effort by individuals when they work in groups as compared to when they work by themselves (Weiten, 2008: 491) Each person in a group usually tends to put in lesser effort than they would working alone.

Max Ringelmann (1913) first came up with the idea of social loafing when he found that when a group of men were instructed to pull on a rope, they did not put in as much effort as when they were pulling alone. The force of the pull produced by the participants was measured by a strain gauge attached to the rope. When the group of men was led to believe that they had other team members helping them, he noticed that they tend to put in less effort than they normally would when pulling alone. Ringelmann stated that the amount of effort produced by each individual working alone was not the same as the average amount of effort put in by the individuals who believed that they were in a group.

Another study which was used to investigate social loafing is Latané et al.’s (1979). As cited by Weiten (2008), the study consisted of measuring the level of noise created by participants who were asked to either clap or cheer as loud as they could. A group of participants were told that they working in a group while another group was told that they were working alone. This was in fact not true, as the only purpose was to ensure that they believed that were actually working in a group. Consequently, the amount of effort that they produced individually was measured. From the study, Latané and his colleagues found that each person in a group tends to put in lesser effort when in a group than working alone.

Research shows that the larger the group, the lesser the effort produced by each of the individuals. The reason is that when more people are assigned to an activity, the amount of work which needs to be produced is divided equally among more people and this consequently causes individuals to think that their effort is not as significant and their contribution is not evaluated suitably.

As cited by Antony S. R. Manstead et al. (1995, 1996:275) in the book called ‘The Blackwell encyclopedia of social psychology’, Steiner, I.D. (1972) ‘postulated that actual group productivity should always be lower than potential group productivity because of process losses due to poor coordination and low motivation’. Furthermore, he added that the potential productivity is usually based on performance of individuals working alone.

This study aims to support the social loafing theory. A group of participants will be divided into two categories: those working individually and those working in groups. The mean number unscrambled by participants in each category will be calculated. Their performance in the activity will show that social loafing does exist when working in a group. The experiment is a one-tailed experiment.

Research hypothesis (H1): The mean number of words unscrambled by participants working individually is higher than the mean number of words unscrambled by participants working in a group.

Null hypothesis (H0): There will be no significant difference in the number of words found in participants working individually than in a group.

Method

Design

The type of method used in this experiment is an independent measures design. This was used to avoid practice effects. Each participant only took part in each condition once which means that both groups consist of different individuals. The independent variable is working individually or in a group. The dependant variable is the difference of performance in each condition. The environment that the participants were in was under controlled conditions. The activity is the unscrambling of words. This experiment is considered as a single blind experiment where only the experimenters know the hypothesis and aim of the experiments. Participants were given consent letters to sign and were briefed and de-briefed accordingly. Those who did not include their signature on the given consent letters prior to the experiment were not allowed to participate in the activity. Those who participated were given the right to withdraw at any point of time. The participants also remained anonymous throughout the study.

Participants

The participants tested in this study consisted of 19 Year 6 students from a private school in Victoria. The participants consisted of 10 males and 9 females aged 11 to 13 years. The sample was an opportunity sample but the participants in each category were randomly assigned. The participants came from different backgrounds and cultures. This is to ensure that the experiment is fair and not biased.

Materials

List of 26 words to unscramble (Refer to Appendix )

Pen

Stopwatch

Briefing instructions (Refer to Appendix )

De-briefing instructions (Refer to Appendix )

Consent Letter (Refer to Appendix )

Procedure

Participants are first briefed (Refer to Appendix ). Participants are randomly divided into two conditions. Half of the participants will be carrying out the activity alone and the other half is to be divided into groups of three to work on the same activity. Participants who are working individually are to sit far from each other to avoid communicating. The other participants who are working in groups of three are to be seated together but each group is to be seated far from another group to avoid communication between groups. Participants who are in the group category are asked to work as a team to unscramble the list of 26 words while the others will be working individually to unscramble the same set of 26 words. When the seating arrangement of all the participants are properly allocated, the list of 26 words is given faced down to the participants. Only one copy of the list will be given to each of the groups instead of one copy for each participant. The participants are then given a time limit of five minutes to quickly unscramble the list of 26 words. During the experiment, participants have the right to withdraw if they do not wish to participate. After exactly five minutes, they are asked to stop writing and the sheets are to be collected by the experimenters. Participants are then de-briefed.

Results

Table 1: Table shows mean number of words found in each category

Participants working individually

Participants working

in a group

Mean number of words found

12.4 words

5.22 words

Standard Deviation

5.04 words

1.09 words

Graph 1: Bar graph shows average no. of words found in each category

Graph 1 shows that the average number of words found for those who were working individually were 12.4 words. The average number of words found per individual who were working in groups were 5.22 words. This shows that the experiment supports the social loafing theory. The standard deviation were 5.04 and 1.09 respectively.

A Mann-Whitney U test was used in order to test the significance of the results as it is an ordinal level data, and it was an unrelated design. When tested, it was found that the probability that it was the independant variable that changed the dependent variable and not chance. The significance level were calculated to be p < 0.005 (Refer to appendix ). This means that the probability that the results were because of chance was less than 0.5%. The results were highly significant. Thus, according to the results of the statistical test, the research hypothesis is supported while the null hypothesis is rejected.

Discussion

The results shows that the research hypothesis has been supported. The mean number of words unscrambled by participants working individually is 12.4, higher than the mean number of words unscrambled by participants working in a group which is 5.22 words. A Mann-Whitney U test was used to show that the results were highly significant. This shows that the research hypothesis is supported and the null hypothesis is rejected.

According to Ringelmann’s study, the amount of effort produced by each individual working alone is not the same as the average amount of effort put in by the individuals who were in pseudogroups. He asserted that the performance of individuals working alone is much more than the average performance of individuals working in groups, which is called the social loafing theory. In this experiment, the social loafing theory is supported as the mean number of words unscrambled by individuals working alone is 12.4, which is definitely higher than 5.22 words, the average number of words unscrambled by individuals working in groups.

The aim of this study was to measure the cause and effect relationship of the performance of individuals working in a group or individually. The result of this experiment relates to the study carried out by Latané and his colleagues as it supports the theory of social loafing. The reduction in performance of individuals when they are working in groups as compared to working individually is evident in both studies.

There are several strengths in the experiment. One of the strengths of the experiment was that the subjects came from different backgrounds and cultures. This is a good as the cultural diversity of the participants was not limited. Also, the fact that there were approximately the same number of males and females is good. If there were a huge difference in females and males, the experiments would not be fair. Another strength of the experiment is that it was designed to be an independent measures design. This was to avoid practice effects. If the participants had taken part in both conditions, the results would have been affected.

Though the research hypothesis was supported, there are several limitations in the experiment. As mentioned, the participants were between the ages of 11 to 13 as it was an opportunity sample. It was difficult to get a random sample as there are limited number students available and there was a time constraint. Another limitation of the experiment was that no extra precaution was made ensure that the participants did not cheat by communicating with each other. Though we did our best effort to ensure that they did not communicate with each other, it is not absolute that no one cheated. Also, during the experiment, as all the participants (whether in a group or individually) were in the same environment at the same time, there was a chance that some participants may have overheard the words unscrambled by another person. This component of the experiment was hard to control as no matter how much effort was put in to ensure it was a fair experiment, the participants did have a chance to cheat.

With regards to the limitations of the experiment, there are a few areas of improvement. In relation to the sample itself, although the participants and the students were randomly assigned, we could have ensured that the sample were not an opportunity sample. Furthermore, instead of selecting ten males and nine females, it could have been better if there was exactly the same number of females and males. To counteract the problem of cheating, the environment that the participants were in (which was a classroom) could have been different. The experiment could have been carried out in an open space so that there is a significant amount of space between groups and the individuals working alone. This would ensure that there was less opportunity for the participants to cheat.

Ethical considerations were taken into account in this experiment. The participants were allowed to withdraw at any point of time during the activity. The rights of the participants were met and they remained anonymous throughout the whole experiment. The participants were not deceived in any way as that would be unethical.

The implication of this finding is that the results produced can be shown to teachers/instructors to prove that individuals generally work better alone than working in groups as they tend not to put in as much effort when working in groups. In majority of the groups, some individuals tend to ‘slack off’ and let their other team members do the work. Some individuals may also think that their effort is not evaluated individually so they tend to put less effort than they would put in when working alone. This could further relate to employers in the work field.

For further researches, the sample should be much bigger so that the experiment would have fewer limitations. Also, follow-up studies can manipulate the age groups and compare the difference in performance for various age groups. They could also investigate the effect of culture on the performance of individuals when working in groups. They could test the theory of: Asians generally tend to work well in groups unlike Westerns, who prefer to work individually.

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