What is Social Loafing?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2019
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Working in groups has a number of advantages over working individually, but one disadvantage of working collectively is a phenomenon known as social loafing. This occurs whenever a member of a group feels compelled or permitted to exert less effort than he or she would have exerted as an individual. A individual singing "Happy Birthday" to a co-worker may sing at full voice, for example, but that same person will sing much softer within a group. This phenomenon is often the result of individuals relaxing within the more anonymous confines of a group, especially when individual effort is not being measured or acknowledged.

Social loafing is not necessarily the same as laziness or a lack of enthusiasm for the task at hand. For many people assigned to a group project, however, motivation comes from recognition of personal efforts or accomplishments, not from the collective results of a group effort. If it becomes possible to slip through the cracks or lose individual identity within a group, some loafers will take full advantage of the anonymity and only put out minimal effort. Once other members of the group start to notice a lack of attention on individuals, then they will also start to exert less and less effort.


The effects of social loafing on group dynamics was first observed during an early 20th century experiment involving bell-ringing volunteers. The experimenters first asked individual men to pull on a bell's rope as hard as possible. Their individual efforts were measured and recorded on a graph. The experimenters then asked the entire group of volunteers to pull on ropes arranged in a series. Each man exerted noticeably less individual effort when working within a group. When individual achievement was no longer an issue, social loafing took effect.

This phenomenon can be observed in any number of group situations. Individual singers in a choir often sing louder for a choir leader than they would as a group. An individual student may recite the pledge of allegiance in a loud voice, but a group of students often mumble the same pledge incoherently. An individual may clap loudly for a performer, but clap much softer in an audience of thousands. Social loafing is often triggered by a sense of relaxation or protection within a group. If the activity is clearly group-oriented, individuals within that group no longer feel motivated to stand out or exert maximum effort.

There are several ways a group leader can counteract the effects of social loafing within a group. He or she can identify individual loafers and privately encourage them to increase their efforts for the sake of the larger group. A tangible reward or incentive for increased performance as a team can also give individual members a reason to work harder. Giving the impression that individual performance or effort is indeed being monitored or observed can also counteract the negative effects of social loafing. If a problem still exists with a few loafers, then a group leader may have to remove them from the team in order to get maximum results from other members.

There is some evidence that social loafing is more common among men than women in general, and that Western cultures experience it more often than Eastern cultures, primarily because of a different focus on individual versus group accomplishments. It is nearly impossible to eliminate all traces of this phenomenon within any group or team, but a group leader can work to increase individual recognition and motivation within a collective group with a common purpose.


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Post 2

Moldova- Social loafing refers to the tendency for people to avoid doing any work and let others do all the work instead.

An example where is often occurs is in the schools in which parents happen to volunteer. There are always volunteer opportunities in school and many parents sign up to help at various activities.

There are always the same parents who pitch in and do all of the work while some manage to arrive at the event late having done no prep work because the rest of the group took care of the details.

This type of parent wears on the other parents because they tend to take credit for work that they never did. This is a great example of social loafing in teams.

Post 1

Social loafing is most likely among groups of three or more. The larger the group of people the higher the possibility of social loafing taking place.

Social loafing in the workplace is often reduced with there are team leaders assigned and accountability measures in place. Assigning each member of the group a specific area of responsibility are strategies to discourage social loafing.

The problem with most group dynamics as in a group project in college is that some members of the group exert more effort than others but since there will be a group grade and not an individual grade, the people that performed the least will receive the same grade as those that did most of the work. Social loafing has been found to be especially noticeable among college students.

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