Social Loafing Appears When People Work in Groups

Table of Contents

Abstract 3

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Introduction. 4

Background. 4

Research Problem.. 5

Previous Studies. 6

Hypothesis. 7

Method. 8

Participants. 8

Variables. 9

Materials. 10

Procedure. 11

Results. 12

Observations from the Group Surveys. 12

Observations from the Individual Surveys. 13

Discussion. 14

References. 17


Group work is encouraged in many institutions of learning to foster team-building skills among students. Not only does the tactic ensure less investment in time spent on assessments, it promotes learning through sharing among students. Group work has many advantages and benefits to the academic community. However, there is concern that the rate of work per student lowers as they are clumped into groups. Their throughput tends to diminish due to the lack of motivation to work on tasks that are otherwise being handled by other students. Students in groups thus tend to be more reluctant to work as compared to other students. It is generally a concern that even as students are aware of their course limitations and requirements, they often fail to put all the necessary effort as they begin working in group assignments. This study sought to establish the existence of social loafing as a result of group work activities. The study is particular on the role of these groups and the basic necessity for more individual work to discourage laziness among students. The questionnaire was the main tool used to gather data from the students. However, observation was practiced to gather the necessary information from the participants; who were all college students. The study confirmed the hypothesis that indeed, social loafing was common among people working in groups.



Social loafing has been proven by many scientists in the past. It is a common phenomenon that describes how people end up exerting less effort when they are in groups as opposed to when they work alone. Indeed, social loafing is a general concern that basically affects all the persons who are exposed to both situations of being in a group, and working independent of the group. The concept has been practiced majorly in team-building efforts. Famous Psychologist; Ringelmann is known to have proven social loafing using the rope-pulling experiment. He placed a single person against a group of people in a tag-of-war and realized that indeed, the single person exerted more effort than the group, individually. Basically, the explanation for social loafing is the fact that human beings prefer to be assisted in most of the tasks they undertake, as opposed to handling the tasks alone. Generally, social loafing is common among all persons and has been shown to be a human natural instinct.

Although common about this issue of social loafing in circumstances that may use group help, sometimes human beings are opposed to it. Some social circumstances call for people to work alone as opposed to group mentality. Man is a social creature but often becomes antisocial in circumstances where there is the possibility of imminent failure. In general, the circumstances that affect manly ego often discourage social loafing. Issues such as management of finances, family affairs and even social problems such as mental conditions, drug addiction and personality problems call for the individual to ‘work alone.’ Although many studies have been done to encourage more individual efforts in group work, social loafing has not been exhausted as a research topic. A lot needs to be understood about the very reason for social loafing in cases where it would otherwise be risky to do so. This is the motivation behind this study.   

Research Problem

Social loafing is a phenomenon more than it is a social problem. Nonetheless, it has been seen to result in many cases of inevitable poor quality and unreliable work. Regardless of the need, group works often incorporate people who have strong technical skills and working experience with others, who have less experience. At the same time, there are experienced persons who are demotivated while less skilled people who have the right motivation and drive to perform the tasks desired of them. Social work often results in the revelation of the different strengths and weaknesses of the group members. It may be necessary to ensure that all the group members participate in different tasks. However, regardless of the effort taken, group work often results in poor quality as opposed to individual work due to the high risk of social loafing. There is thus need to evaluate the concern and work towards dealing with the problem.

Although the intention of many group activities is to foster a communication ideology, the output is often academic or professional. The risks involved are thus quite high and many a time, unnecessary. It thus beats logic to encourage group work in situations where high quality work is desired. However. For most academic cases, the concern is not the output but the efficiency in delivering work and assessing these results. Although group participation is encouraged, there are many efforts and tactics on how to circumvent group activities and instead, encourage social loafing. It is necessary for groups to be conversant with these concerns and ensure that they generally motivation for all members to participate. Otherwise. Most group members will consider the tasks ahead of them in a capitalist way, and generally choose to avoid the tasks they do not see value in pursuing.  

Previous Studies

According to Aggarwal & O’Brien (2008) there is a high possibility of individuals who portray unique behavior in different ways to exercise social loafing when asked to work together Alnuaimi, Robert, & Maruping (2010) argue that; even where a group is performing great and with a lot of positive output, there is often a case of people not doing their part as anticipated in the spirit of the group work organizers. Generally, social loafing has been seen to have more detrimental than beneficial impacts. However, in one particular area, social loafing is seen to be quite beneficial and desirable. This is in the area of sports. According to Woodman, et al (2011), sportsmen and women enjoy the gains of having a member of the team who is more prominent in a particular area and can assure the team of the much-needed results. Indeed, in the team, the various roles are allocated to people who excel at them, not in the generic team setting but as individuals in a team.

According to Osborn, et al. (2012), social loafing is highest among people in the sports discipline. It is a common phenomenon among gamers to consistently rely on their fellow team mates to perform well in particular sporting activities. At the same time, this is perceived as a good thing, as the strength of the sports team is normally in the players that can make a difference. Stark, Shaw, & Duffy (2007) believe that social norms in society encourage social loafing to a great extent. Indeed, due to the consistent behavior of society to promote greatness and discourage weakness, those who feel weak or left out in society often result to social loafing so as to get activities done without seeming weak or incapable. Social loafing thus becomes a concern when the entire team is poorly performing, not when the issue is with a few people in the team.


Social loafing is associated with gender. In a generally gender-balanced group, male participants will often dominate ideas over the female participants. This shows that social loafing is greater among women than it is among men. The possibility that a man will completely consider ideas offered by women is generally an elusive concept. Nonetheless, women often consider ideas offered by men, considered the patriarchs of society, without much questioning of these decisions. Social loafing also exists closely with esteem. The justification for high social loafing among women is the general low self-esteem demonstrated by the women. Overall, it is significantly a general concern among psychologists that social loafing not only affects the quality of work in many circumstances, it beats the very essence of group work. Social loafing has many justifications and explanations other than self-esteem and gender. It is often a possibility among many people that social loafing will occur in cases where tasks handled are of a disproportionate scale to the skillset and knowledge of the participants.

For this research, social loafing shall be studied on the basis of gender and tasks assigned. It is hypothesized that as determined by other researchers before, women shall be less proactive to the activities asked of them, while men shall be proactive. It is also the hypothesis of this study that indeed, most of the work done by the men individually shall be replicated in the group tasks and assignments granted. Basically, the men shall prove to be more participatory in the assignments and tasks while the women shall prove to be complacent and less cooperative. The nature of tasks given will also present more quality output from the men than it will from the women. The general results of the research shall be related to the ideas and concepts presented by the men, with very little input from the women. Although this looks sexist, research has proven that social loafing takes such trends.



          The study involved a hundred invited participants. These participants were invited randomly and told of the activities that would be undertaken in the research beforehand. The major explanation given by the research team was that they would participate in both individual events and team-work activities. All these participants were however from SFU. This was because; they would provide the appropriate sample of students needed in the research. There was also a goal to ensure that all the participants were conversant with group studies. This is why; it was necessary that the study concentrate on students; all of whom were part of the consistent group studies undertaken at the University. There was also another bias among the participants. Most of them were majoring in business and psychology. These would thus be very aware of the research concept of social loafing. These were also participants who were well aware and conversant about social research.

The participants were asked to give consent before taking part in the study. This would happen in the form of a consent form, that would be signed in the presence of the researcher. However, they were all asked to convene at a single place at the same time on the actual day of the study in order to gather all the investigative material necessary as it would be a participatory study. They consented on time, and as the research date neared, all the 100 students invited were able to show up. While many did not heed the call at first, most of them did. The rest were gathered from the social science majors, with the bias on business and psychology still retained. The study finally took place at the groups that were required as well as the individuals needed for both categories of the study were available. The retained bias would be explained further in the results section of the study.


The research incorporated both independent and dependent variables. The independent variables in the study were groups and individual, that would participate in the different tasks assigned to them. The groups comprised eight people, who were asked to sit down together and discuss ideas on the design of a simple board game of their choice. The groups were given twenty minutes to come up with the ideas, and write down the consensus on a piece of paper. The groups were all expected to work separately and ensure that they have generally unique ideas based on the contributions of all members to the best of their abilities. The individuals were also expected to sit separately and perform their tasks without referring to anything or conversing with each other. The activity would also take twenty minutes as well. For the individuals, the group work ideas would be first collected, before they would be allowed to undertake the respective individual surveys.

The dependent variable in this study was the percentage of the ideas of each person, as provided in the group activity. Each group would thus write down the ideas against the people who came up with the ideas. Of special interest would be the gender of the participants.  For the individuals, they would be given a questionnaire, to answer questions about the group work activity before undertaking the individual studies. These studies would seek to get responses about how the group work was undertaken as well as the performance of the individual members in the study. This would cement the information about the dependent variable in the study. They would however be asked to offer their own contributions about the ideas for a board game as well. This would complete the survey on the two variables. Only respondents with the questionnaires completely filled would be considered to have offered substantial data for the research.


For purposes of the study, it was necessary that there be a convenient social hall, where the group can meet. This would be provided by one of the facilities at the University. At the same time, it was necessary to have questionnaire printouts on which to interview the individuals. The study also required that there be ample writing material and the pens to undertake the group work and individual surveys. However, since observation was part of the study, a camera was used; at the consent of the participants, to gather data on various aspects of the study. Groups were also accorded a recording tool to record the conversations they were having, as well as ensure that all the activities undertaken were in the interest of the research.  The study tools and materials were mostly provided by the institution. However, some of the materials such as the cameras and the pens were sourced by the research team.

The study required some assistance from a few personnel to aid in the guiding of the groups as well as the individuals partaking the research. The tools were also expected to be properly used, left untampered and left in good condition as they were returned to the research team. The respondents were asked to consistently take care of the research equipment in order to avoid any breakages and vandalism. The recordings were also to be filled with relevant material only. Research teams were thus allowed to delete any material that would not add value to the discussion. However, given the twenty-minute period of the research, the respondents were all consistent in their research responses and participation. This made the general research a success.  All the materials provided were sufficient for the purpose intended. The data collected in the tapes for observation as well as the information in the questionnaires were sufficient for the analysis and discussions of the study.


The study was undertaken in a series of activities. Each time, the researcher invited eight students to an activity room to do this research. The eight students were arranged in a manner, to ensure that all the eight were from the same major. This would ensure that there was no time for preliminary pleasantries, hoping that students from the same major would be familiar with each other. The students were then given some pieces of paper for them to write down or draw on the paper of their ideas about designing a simple board game for twenty minutes. They were asked to discuss among themselves and come up with the best solution in the shortest time possible. The camera was used to record their performance as they worked in groups and an audio recorder was present to record each students’ performance. The students were later asked to sit separately and were provided with a questionnaire sheet to do some survey on the experience they had when they worked in the groups.

The next part of the procedure involved asking the individuals to design a simple board game again individually and also write down their ideas as much as possible. This would form part of the analysis on the ideas that were percurrent in the group discussions. The general idea was that; the individual views would be amalgamated with the views from the group discussion, in order to realize from where the ideas were emanating. Several groups were incorporated in the research. Their views were recorded in the questionnaires as well as the camera and voice recorders. The data was then collected for analysis. The results of the analysis are presented in the next section of the study. However, the research process took quite some time due to the large number of respondents. However, they were all accorded an opportunity to participate.


Observations from the Group Surveys

The group surveys were contacted among ten groups of eight participants each. All the groups were further recategorized into individuals who were then assessed separately. The groups each had time to evaluate their ideas. The top results from the ideas were common games such as backgammon, scrabble and monopoly. However, there were quite diverse ideas, as were the persons contributing to the very ideas. The participants were aware that they were being videoed but were not interfered with in any way. The video evidence from the findings indicated that there were more men than women contributing to the ideas. This was despite the fact that there was equal representation on gender in all the groups. It was a general observation among all the groups. The polarization was quite high as shown in table 1.

Table 1. Findings from the research

Group IDIdeas by menIdeas by womenNumber of contributors

The table indicates that more than half of the ideas in the group discussions were presented by men. They consistently developed the major contributors in the survey. At the same time, the survey indicated that no single group had all the members contributing to the survey. The research revealed that indeed, participation was often above the 50% threshold in most of the groups. The study also revealed that where most of the ideas were developed, there was more participation from the group members. For instance, in group eight, a total of 12 suggestions were offered, nine of which were from men. The group also demonstrated a participation of 6 of the eight participants. The observation from the groups was consistent with the number of group members participating.

Observations from the Individual Surveys

The individual surveys involved two series of questionnaires. The first sought to find out the experience of the individuals in the survey, while the second sought to find out the ideas the individuals had on the different board games they had in mind. The study revealed that there were ample ideas generated from the individuals in general. Although some of these ideas were also replicated from the group survey, the individual survey demonstrated a lot of ideas. On average, each individual had at least one idea to offer. The study however revealed that men had more ideas to offer as compared to the women. This was the same indication from the group survey as well. The individual surveys were very conclusive and had sure outcomes since each individual offered responses on their very own responses. They would have the questionnaires presented to the research team upon completion, and had enough time to work alone.

Although only the completely filled questionnaires were considered, the findings revealed that less than five percent of the respondents failed to fully complete the questionnaires. Indeed, the responsibility of the group work and the individual surveys demonstrated a large disparity in the issue of social loafing. Indeed, there was general concentration, willful participation and general willingness of the women to participate as individuals as opposed to group participation. This was demonstrated across all groups where the data was gathered on both group and individual basis.  The individual surveys generally confirmed that there was ample indication of significant social loafing due to the persons existing or working in groups initially. There was also indication from the survey that the study was generally done by participants who were well aware of the issue of social loafing and also very informed about the issues discussed in the questions asked.    


This study was influenced by Ying et al (2014). In this article, it is demonstrated that the working in groups caused students to perform worse as compared to work that was done by individuals. The study was performed on students in two different experiments. The studies were done in different conditions and on different occasions as well. The resultant indications were similar, in that social loafing affected the performance of students immensely. The study was done to confirm th ability of students to reason and generate ideas as a group as opposed to individuals. Generally, the performance of the groups was dismal compared to the individual performances by all the students. This is coherent with the findings by Aggarwal & O’Brien (2008) who believe that; it is a general concern among students to renege their duties when placed in a group. However, every student is often cautious of their responsibilities when asked to perform specific duties relating to assignments.

According to Stark, Shaw, & Duffy (2007), the insistence on group work by many institutions is a deliberate phenomenon. Though the risk of social loafing is always a possibility, the general reason for group work goes beyond the very activity under study. It is often a strategy to encourage cohesion, socialization and to build confidence among students. Students are thus encouraged to participate in many ways, including allocating different leadership positions in the groups.  Many institutions are however unable to measure the level of participation by each student. Osborn, et al (2012) believes that there is a general lack of action from the institutions in their handling of the issue of social loafing. However, there is a major concern that social loafing affects the academic quality of most institutions of higher learning. A lot of research needs to go into developing better ways to discourage social loafing in academic work.

In general, the issue of social loafing takes a more complicated approach than the obvious normal situation of loafing among students. Indeed, with there being students from all gender and academic backgrounds, loafing differs among students based on their exposure and confidence. According to Ying, et al (2014), social loafing is also affected by the personality of the individual. For many introverts, group settings are very scary places to be. They often do not want to expose their weaknesses or lack of knowledge and thus opt out of many debates and discussions that groups engage in. Extroverts however generally feel confident sharing their ideas, whether they are wrong or not. Among many students who participate in the group assignments, social loafing in dominant among women due to their high rate of introversion. They also tend to be more of persons with low self-esteem as compared to the men (Alnuaimi, Robert, & Maruping, 2010).

Although the study revealed a general trend in social loafing among the groups, there was a consistent hint of group participation, not in the core activity but in encouragement, applause and other actions. The group members were generally supportive of one another and inherently gave each other a chance to participate. Nonetheless, the phenomenon of group bullies was revealed. In some groups, there were self-appointed bullies who performed most of the talking and assigning of tasks. In these groups, the participation was more of a negative nature, with group members discouraging the bully. Regardless, the participation in such groups was quite high. Indeed, as Woodman, et al (2011) posits, the individuals who seem to demonstrate the greatest confidence and that are extrovertly exposed tend to be the best leaders in a group. Where group leaders are not appointed, these individuals tend to self-appoint themselves and generally do a great job organizing the rest.

Group work is important. In essence, it is the basis for social interactions in a classwork setting. The general issue with group works and social loafing is that; there are very few tactics that can generally expose students to the benefits of participating in group work assignments and discussions. It is also common for many students to participate when they feel interested and fail to participate when they lack the interest.  According to Ying, et al (2014), social loafing is a phenomenon that cannot be easily prevented. However, in order to discourage social loafing, one needs to deliberately distract group members with topics that can exercise their interests and convince them that they are in a friendly social setting. Where that happens, social loafing is greatly minimized. Social loafing can be minimized in the academic setting using non-academic discussions. However, in other life situations, there is little one can do, where the personality traits of the individuals are very diverse and that members have other interests even when in these group meetings.


Aggarwal, P., & O’Brien, C. L. (2008). Social loafing on group projects: Structural antecedents and effect on student satisfaction. Journal of Marketing Education30(3), 255-264.

Alnuaimi, O. A., Robert, L. P., & Maruping, L. M. (2010). Team size, dispersion, and social loafing in technology-supported teams: A perspective on the theory of moral disengagement. Journal of Management Information Systems27(1), 203-230.

Osborn, K. A., Irwin, B. C., Skogsberg, N. J., & Feltz, D. L. (2012). The Köhler effect: Motivation gains and losses in real sports groups. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology1(4), 242.

Stark, E. M., Shaw, J. D., & Duffy, M. K. (2007). Preference for group work, winning orientation, and social loafing behavior in groups. Group & Organization Management32(6), 699-723.

Woodman, T., Roberts, R., Hardy, L., Callow, N., & Rogers, C. H. (2011). There is an “I” in TEAM: Narcissism and social loafing. Research quarterly for exercise and sport82(2), 285-290.

Ying, X., Li, H., Jiang, S., Peng, F., & Lin, Z. (2014). Group laziness: The effect of social loafing on group performance. Social Behavior And Personality, 42(3), 465-472. doi:10.2224/sbp.2014.42.3.465

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