Social Loafing and Group Development

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Submitted: May 12, 2009 Accepted: September 24, 2010 Published: October 5, 2011 SOCIAL LOAFING AND GROUP DEVELOPMENT: WHEN "I" COMES LAST Stephen Worchel University of Hawaii-Hilo Hank Rothgerber Bellarmine University Eric Anthony Day University of Oklahoma ABSTRACT The present research examined social loafing in groups across different stages of group development. Individuals working in newly formed groups worked harder in the group setting than alone, although this difference was non-significant. However, individuals working in groups that were at the midpoint or end of their existence performed better when working by themselves. This latter finding is consistent with traditional findings on social loafing. Overall, the study suggests that social loafing is affected by the group's developmental cycle and suggests that early in a group's life - when social identity is higher- no social loafing will occur. INTRODUCTION One of the earliest focuses of research (Knight, 1924; Triplett, 1898) and a continuing concern of business and industry (Steers & Porter, 1979) is the effect that grouping people together has on productivity. Questions concerning this effect have taken on many forms. Are individuals more productive when working in groups than when working alone? Are certain types of groups more productive than other types? Are some tasks more effectively handled by groups than by isolated individuals? The group has alternatively been praised (Zajonc, 1965) and damned (Steiner, 1972) for its influences on productivity. Using the classic Ringelmann (1927) study as a foundation, the reputation of the group as a contributor to productivity has been severely tarnished by research over the last couple of decades. This research has shown that individual productivity declines when individuals work in groups (Ingham, Levinger, Graves & Peckham, 1974; Kerr & Bruum, 1981; Latane, Williams & Harkins, 1979). The effect has been demonstrated by measuring group output such as rope pulling, shouting, clapping, constructing paper moons, etc. This phenomenon has been given such unflattering labels as "social loafing" (Latane et al., 1979), the "free rider effect" (Kerr &

Bruun, 1983) or the "sucker effect" (Kerr, 1983). Formally, social loafing is defined as "the tendency to reduce one's effort when working collectively compared with coactively on the same task (Karau & Williams, 1993, p. 683)." The most common explanation for social loafing is that people in groups are not identifiable, or more precisely, that individual production cannot be associated with specific individuals. Responsibility is diffused as individuals "hide in the crowd" (Latane et al., 1979). In support of this position, Williams, Harkins, & Latane (1981) found that when productivity was clearly associated with individuals, social loafing was reduced. In a meta-analytic review of the social loafing literature, Karau and Williams (1993) also found that social loafing decreased when evaluation potential was constant across individual and group working conditions. A second explanation for social loafing focuses specifically on the task. The position is that loafing occurs because people find the task unimportant, uninteresting, and uninvolving. The group offers them the opportunity to reduce their involvement in these tasks because there is little monitoring of individual efforts. Zaccaro (1984) reported that social loafing was reduced when the task was an attractive one. More directly, Brickner, Ostrom & Harkins (1986) reduced social loafing by using a task that was involving and personally relevant to group members. The reduction in loafing occurred even when individuals were not identifiable in the group. Similarly, Karau and Williams (1993) reported that social loafing was reduced when the task was of high valence. Based on their meta-analytic review, Karau and Williams (1993) offered a new model to explain social loafing – the Collective Effort Model (CEM). CEM...