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social loafing

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The tendency to exert less effort on a task when working as part of a cooperative group than when working on one's own—one reason why many hands make light work. The French agricultural engineer Maximilien (Max) Ringelmann (1861–1931) first investigated this phenomenon in a series of experiments carried out in 1882–7 but not published until 1913, in one of which students pulled as hard as they could on a rope, alone and in groups of two, three, and eight; the results showed that, on average, groups of three exerted only two and a half times as much force as an individual working alone, and groups of eight exerted less than four times the force of a single person. The term social loafing was coined by the US psychologist Bibb Latané (born 1937) and colleagues who performed an experiment, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1979, in which participants attempted to make as much noise as possible, by yelling and clapping, while wearing blindfolds and listening to masking noise through headphones. Compared to the amount of noise that they generated alone, participants made only about 82 per cent as much noise when they believed they were working in pairs and 74 per cent as much noise when they believed they were part of a group of six people working together. The phenomenon has been replicated across a variety of tasks, and evidence has shown that it is greatly reduced by making individual contributions identifiable within the group. Subsequent evidence suggests that social loafing tends to occur when individuals contribute to a group product, whereas coaction effects tend to occur when individuals work in groups to produce individual products. Also called the Ringelmann effect. See also diffusion of responsibility.

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