We rarely carry out a sporting activity on our own in total isolation; our presence will usually have an effect on another’s sporting performance and the presence of others will have an influence on our own behaviour and our performance. We are often totally unaware of any of these affects and so the behaviour of the person taking part in a physical activity whether it be school P.E or the World Cup Final is said to be influenced socially either directly or indirectly. The study of this effect is called Social Facilitation.
In the context of the sporting activity the presence of others is seen as the audience, although there are different types; there are primary and secondary spectators then there are passive and supportive.
Primary spectators are those who are present at the event and secondary are those watching the event at home on TV or listening to it through other forms of media. Passive supporters are those who remain quieter and do not get as involved as supportive spectators who get involved in the event e.g. cheering and wanting them to win really badly.
Aside from the audience there are also other people watching such as your team- mates, opposition and either a teacher or coach. There is also coactors these are people who are performing the same task or skill as you but not competing directly, a perfect example of this is a golf driving range where you are not competing but you are affected by the length of their shots and the calibre of player you are against.
It is thought even somebody training alone can be affected by the thought of someone watching the effect of training in a future performance and seeing how they have improved through training.
The great majority of research carried out in this field relates to Zajonc but the earliest recorded research was by Norman Triplett in 1898. He established that the performance of cyclists differed depending on whether they rode in pairs, groups or on their own. His findings were interpreted in relation to the competitive element involved. The performers were seen as unconsciously competing with one another showing a competitive ‘instinct’ or ‘drive’, which served to increase performance speed.
Later research e.g. Allport (1924) and Dashiells (1930) suggested that it was actually the ‘mere presence’ of others working alongside a person performing (coaction) that was the most important factor, not necessarily the competition. Allport stated that ‘coaction’ may increase quantity at the expense of quality.
Zajonc proposed social facilitation depended on the type of activity, depending on the activity the level of social facilitation would differ. His theory was based around the notion of ‘drive theory’. He said that the presence of an audience in any shape or form raised a performer’s level of arousal; this arousal level would increase with the performer’s drive. Therefore the presence of others can serve to enhance the performers skills especially well-learnt ones. A high drive state caused by an audience is likely to increase the number of mistakes made particularly by learners.
Cottrell argued that that it wasn’t just the mere presence of others that created higher arousal. He went on to suggest that it was more to do with a persons perceptions that they were being evaluated or assessed in some way by the others present. Thus the effects of social facilitation are enhanced by a performer’s feelings of evaluation apprehension.