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latanewilliams&harkins - Journal of Personality and...

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Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1979, Vol. 37, No. 6, 822-832 Many Hands Make Light the Work: The Causes and Consequences of Social Loafing Bibb Latane, Kipling Williams, and Stephen Harkins Ohio State University Two experiments found that when asked to perform the physically exerting tasks of clapping and shouting, people exhibit a sizable decrease in individual effort when performing in groups as compared to when they perform alone. This decrease, which we call social loafing, is in addition to losses due to faulty co- ordination of group efforts. Social loafing is discussed in terms of its experi- mental generality and theoretical importance. The widespread occurrence, the negative consequences for society, and some conditions that can minimize social loafing are also explored. There is an old saying that "many hands make light the work." This saying is interest- ing for two reasons. First, it captures one of the promises of social life—that with social organization people can fulfill their individual goals more easily through collective action. When many hands are available, people often do not have to work as hard as when only a few are present. The saying is interesting in a second, less hopeful way—it seems that when many hands are available, people ac- tually work less hard than they ought to. Over 50 years ago a German psychologist named Ringelmann did a study that he never managed to get published. In rare proof that unpublished work does not necessarily perish, the results of that study, reported only in summary form in German by Moede (1927), have been cited by Dashiell (1935), Davis (1969), Kohler (1927), and Zajonc (1966) This research was supported by National Science Foundation Grant GS40194. The authors would like to thank Lewis Hinkle for technical assistance and Edward Diener, John Har- vey, Norbert Kerr, Robert Kidd, George Levinger, Thomas Ostrom, Richard Petty, and Ladd Wheeler for their valuable comments. S. Harkins is now an assistant professor of psy- chology at Northeastern University. Requests for reprints should be sent to Bibb Latane, Behavioral Sciences Laboratory, Ohio State University, 404B West 17th Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43210. and extensively analyzed by Steiner (1966, 1972) and Ingham, Levinger, Graves, and Peckham (1974). Apparently Ringelmann simply asked German workers to pull as hard as they could on a rope, alone or with one, two, or seven other people, and then he used a strain gauge to measure how hard they pulled in kilograms of pressure. Rope pulling is, in Steiner's (1972) useful classification of tasks, maximizing, unitary, and additive. In a maximizing task, success depends on how much or how rapidly some- thing is accomplished and presumably on how much effort is expended, as opposed to an optimizing task, in which precision, accuracy, or correctness are paramount. A unitary task cannot be divided into separate subtasks—all members work together doing the same thing and no division of labor is possible. In an additive task, group success depends on the sum of the individual efforts, rather than on the performance of any
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