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The following article
was written by Coleman Patterson and
appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.
Social facilitation: Handling
pressure during performance, March 31, 2006, 7D.
It is not uncommon to see individual
athletes perform in extraordinary ways when team, media, and fan attention shines on them. Neither is it rare to see athletes crumble and
melt under pressure when competition begins. When
the lights come on and the crowds begin to cheer, some athletes seem to rise to the
occasion and perform beyond their limits while others seem to lose confidence,
concentration, and the ability to perform. Why
and how do those differences occur?
Psychologists and organizational
researchers refer to this phenomenon as social
facilitation. It posits that
individuals perform differently in the presence of others than they do when they are
alone. Knowing that others are observing them
brings about a state of physiological arousal that causes people to act differently than
when they are unobserved. That
charged physiological state tends to energize people when performing physical
tasks. Whether an individual uses that energy
to enhance or harm performance is influenced by the nature of the task and whether the
person is comfortable and confident performing the task.
When people perform physical tasks with
which they are very comfortable and confident, the energized state tends to enhance
performance. In other words, when tasks are
perceived as easy, the presence of others positively affects performance. Highly trained athletes probably set more
performance records during important competitions than in the presence of only their
coaches during practice. In an opposite
manner, difficult tasks, new tasks, and tasks that people are uncomfortable and
unconfident with, tend to negatively affect performance when conducted in the presence of
Social facilitation also has a mental
component. Performing in front of others
brings with it an expectation that others will evaluate the observed performance. Questions such as: What will others think
about my abilities? and Will others view me as an asset or liability?
run through the minds of individuals when performing in the presence of others. Perceived positive evaluations enhance
performance. Perceived negative evaluations
will unnerve and distract the performer and subsequently harm performance.
The same processes at play on athletes in
competition occur in people in everyday organizations.
To make people feel good about themselves and to perform their best, they
should be put into situations where they can perform tasks, at which they are skilled and
regard as easy, in the presence of others. To
avoid the negative consequences of social facilitation, managers should make sure that
workers have chances to learn and become comfortable with new and difficult tasks by
themselves before working in front of others.
Groups can outperform individuals on
physical tasks because of the greater effort that can be generated by more people. Through the processes of social facilitation,
groups can also enhance the performance of individual members and synergistically produce
an output greater than the sum of performances of individual members in isolation. Managers and organizational leaders should use
these concepts to maximize individual, group, and organizational performance.
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