Social Loafing (Definition + Examples)

Social Loafing (Definition + Examples)

If you’re here, you may have a research project or some homework that has to do with the term Social Loafing. Have no worries, after reading this article, you’ll have a complete understanding of what social loafing is, how it works, and specific measures you can take to prevent it. 

What is Social Loafing?

Social loafing occurs when an individual is doing less when working in a group, as opposed to putting forth full effort if they were alone. Maximillian Ringelmann discovered it in 1913 when he noticed group pulling-power in a tug-of-war was less than the sum of individual strengths.

In fact, the average contribution decreased each time he added members to the team.

This phenomenon suggests members put in less effort as group size grows. This thought makes a mockery of the idea that putting people into teams encourages them to work harder. This could cause an entire human resource team to have palpitations. This is however only half the truth as we explain below.

Social Loafing Examples

Tug of war, group homework projects, and an entertainer asking an audience to scream are all examples of social loafing because as you add more people to a group, the total group effort declines.

Tug of War is the perfect example because it's where Maximillian Ringelmann originally found it. He realized that as you add more people to a Tug of War game, the amount of pressure did not scale up perfectly. In fact, the more you add, the less each individual worked. Here's an image to show the overall effort as he added more pullers:

Group Homework Projects are another great example. Those who don't work on the project are considered social loafers. 

Have you ever been at a concert or an event where the main speaker asks the audience to say something or maybe clap? Sometimes the speaker may even say "That wasn't loud enough".  

What Causes Social Loafing?

Team members begin loafing socially when they feel they are not going to achieve much, and therefore conclude that their participation is optional.

Loss of a sense of individual responsibility

The best sports team coaches achieve incredible results when they hold the team together and motivate individual players and as well as the collective.

Reduced belief in the value of contributions

This is one of the main reasons many of us don’t volunteer for projects, or take up leadership positions.

In many cases, the individual that is "loafing" may not even realize it. 

Also common is the division of "in-group" and "out-group" members.  

How to Manage Social Loafing Through Motivation

There are three ways that we can get our group moving in the right direction. collaboration, content, and choice It is important to remember that this works best during collective practices:

  • Collaboration For example, the worst social loafer could be allocated to keeping minutes of meetings and distributing them so they would ‘have no place to hide’.
  • Content A person who likes socially engaging could be an ideal person to lead brainstorming sessions.
  • Choice Excessive social loafing will be less desirable to them because they have more important things to do.

The Difference between Individual and Group Decisions

Individual decisions can be best when we need a quick answer within a defined situation, for example "should I post a link to this on Facebook or Twitter?"

Decisions like allowing social media access during work hours are better taken in a group.

Individual Decisions

  • Are based on what the individual knows
  • Are taken in isolation without asking other people
  • Therefore have no moral power over the group
  • Do not encourage interaction within a team

Individual decisions are quick and cheap.

Group Decisions

  • Are taken by a group using collective wisdom
  • Involve the whole group in the process
  • Therefore impose a moral power over the group
  • Encourage interaction and healthy group dynamics

However, group decisions take time to reach, and are therefore costly.  

Wrap Up and Something for Everyone to Take Away

Social loafing makes a positive contribution to the soft, non-task-related aspects of group functioning.

However, groups should also self-optimize from the bottom up, not be driven from the top. If that sounds like you don’t wait, collaborate by choice and make a difference at meetings.

About the author 


Theodore created PracticalPsychology while in college and has transformed the educational online space of psychology. His goal is to help people improve their lives by understanding how their brains work. 1,700,000 Youtube subscribers and a growing team of psychologists, the dream continues strong!

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