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A behavior analytic examination of social loafing
AuthorRoose, Kathryn M.
AdvisorWilliams, Wilfred L.
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Social loafing is a phenomenon in which individuals working in groups exert less effort than when they work alone, resulting in substantial losses in productivity. Social loafing has a broad empirical and theoretical research base in various areas of psychology and management, but not in behavior science. Many factors have been shown to influence social loafing; however, research has not assessed the impact of coworker performance on social loafing. This study employed an online data entry task programmed to simulate partner and team performance to vary coworker productivity within subject to assess the impact on participant social loafing. Study 1 assessed participant performance when paired with fast and slow partners in cooperative and competitive conditions. The results indicated a higher prevalence of social loafing in cooperative conditions when compared to competitive conditions, and disparate performance based on the order in which participants were paired with fast and slow partners. Study 2 assessed participant performance while working in pairs or four-person teams with fast and slow coworkers. Participants performed slightly better with teams than with partners, inconsistent with social loafing research, and the apparent impact of fast and slow coworkers was incongruent with the results of Study 1. Study 3 assessed the impact of inconsistent partner performance on participant social loafing, focused on comparisons between cooperative and alone conditions, and included enhanced participant feedback on effort, ability, preference for working alone or with others, and ratings of stress, demand, and job control. Participants performed better in cooperative conditions when compared to alone conditions, again, inconsistent with social loafing research. The order in which participants worked with fast and slow partners had a significant impact on performance, and almost half of participants reported exerting less effort on the task than they predicted exerting prior to each trial. Participants rated higher levels of stress and demand and lower levels of job control when working with partners, and the majority of participants indicated a preference to work alone on future trials. Implications for real-world work environments will be explored based on the results of these studies.