Group psychology (part I)- Understanding social groups to facilitate a productive group workflow

Do you prefer to work in a group or by yourself? Why? Working in a group certainly has a number of advantages and disadvantages. In this blog series of group psychology, we will discuss three phenomena that can occur as a result of working in groups: groupthink, social loafing, and social facilitation. Understanding these phenomena could be quite helpful in any group scenario i.e. teamwork in an organization, sports, a project and many more. Today’s blog would be more elucidating and inclined toward social loafing.

Social Groups

Social groups are a basic part of human life. Except in rare cases, we all typically belong to many different types of social groups. Our groups give us security, companionship, values, norms, and so on. Beyond our primary groups of family and friends, most of us have several secondary groups that exist at work or school. With every group we’re in, we see different effects, advantages, disadvantages, and consequences. The effects we’ll discuss in this blog are -a brief of groupthink and social loafing. You will learn more about groupthink and social facilitation in part II of this series.


A negative consequence that can occur as a result of working in a group is groupthink, which is when a group makes faulty or ineffective decisions for the sake of reaching a consensus. In other words, group members are so focused on avoiding conflict and maintaining harmony that they reach a consensus without even considering alternatives.

For example, imagine you’re with a group of colleagues, and you’ve decided to have lunch together. One person suggests a Chinese restaurant, and everyone agrees, so you all head to the restaurant together. You don’t actually like Chinese food and just agreed to go to avoid conflict. It turns out that no one else likes Chinese food, either – they all agreed to go for the same reason you did! Although this is a simple example, there are times that groupthink results in disaster. We’ll discuss groupthink more in-depth in the following blog.

A study on social loafing showed that people made less effort when pulling on a rope in a group
Social Loafing

Social Loafing

Another negative effect of groups is social loafing, which is the tendency for people to exert less effort to achieve a goal when they are in a group. This goes against the adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. For sure you can think about school groups that you’ve been a part of that demonstrate social loafing. In a given classroom project, certain members of the group would sit back and watch while other members did the majority of the work.

A well-known study on social loafing involved a simple rope-pulling experiment. The participants were asked to pull on a rope much like you would in a game of tug-of-war. First, the participants tugged on a rope by themselves, then in a group. The study showed that the participants tended to exert less effort when pulling the rope in a group than when they were asked to pull the rope by themselves.

Social loafing is quite common and can be found in many situations. Why? Research shows that individuals often feel like their contributions don’t matter, and therefore, they decrease their effort and contributions. Voting in India is a good example. Most citizens agree that voting is important. However, every year, a good percentage of Indians do not participate in voting and elections. One vote can feel insignificant in such a massive population, so people may not think it is worth it to vote. The high number of people that feel this way is one of the reasons voting turnout is so low.

Two other common reasons given for social loafing are the ‘sucker effect’ and the ‘free-rider effect.’ The sucker effect refers to the tendency of people to try and avoid feeling like a ‘sucker’ by waiting to see how much effort others will put into a group first. These are people who often feel that the other group members will leave them to do all the work. The school group that we discussed earlier is a good example of this. If all the group members try to avoid being the sucker, then each person’s effort will be significantly diminished.

The free-rider effect refers to the tendency of people to reduce their efforts when they believe that it will not affect the final performance of the group whatsoever. Another study on social loafing suggests that people tend to clap and cheer much quieter when in a group. The majority of an audience claps loud enough to cover the lack of effort.

We can consider the same scenarios in organizations and corporations. Certain employees exert fewer efforts while being in a group where there are other teammates as compared to his performance in an individual project. This happens because they feel that their efforts might not make a significant difference in the result. The same phenomenon takes place in all organizations around the world. Do take a note that the magnitude of social loafing is directly proportional to the size of the group. In simple words, more people in the group means a lesser amount of effort by an individual. We can use the knowledge of social loafing to put the correct number of people in a group and plan things accordingly for us and for them so as to maximize the outcome.

Social facilitation is a phenomenon that is directly opposite to social loafing, which means this is a phenomenon in which an individual performs better while being in a group as compared to his performance individually. We would understand it deeply in the second part of this blog series.

To be continued…

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