The Allport Social Facilitation Theory

The Allport Social Facilitation Theory

Imagine you are an expert rower or a great tennis player. It is likely that when you were rowing or practicing alone with your racket, you did not perform the task in the same way as if you were surrounded by an audience that watches you ... Do you think you would perform better or worse in this case? Today we explain it to you through the theory of Allport Social Facilitation.


  • 1 How the Social Facilitation Theory came about
  • 2 The effect of co-action and the effect of the audience
  • 3 Facilitation vs. social inhibition

How the Social Facilitation Theory came about

In 1898 the psychologist Norman Triplett He described a finding that would be studied later. Triplett compared the scores of the American Cycling League cyclists and was surprised to notice that they improved when the athletes accompanied each other and competed with each other: the mere presence of the teammates made their speed increase 5 seconds more than when They were alone. To check if this happened with other tasks, Triplett watched as some children rolled up the thread of a spool, checking how when they were accompanied, the boys performed the task faster. This was attributed to a psychological effect that got its name several decades later.

It was specifically Gordon Allport, twenty years later, who did it. Allport was a well-known psychologist for being one of the pioneers in the study of personality, giving great importance to the context and the present in order to understand it. In one of his investigations, Allport studied the effectiveness in the performing tasks of a group of participants These should write as many words as possible that were related to a concept. When the participants were accompanied, they managed to produce many more words than when they were alone. Allport called this effect “Social facilitation”, an effect that was corroborated many times since then.

The theory of social facilitation is the idea that explains why, when we are surrounded by other people we behave differently when performing certain tasks. This theory shows how lThe execution of a task can be improved with the mere presence of other people. Thus, the presence of other people gives rise to two types of effect: effect of co-action and the effect of the audience.

The effect of co-action and the effect of the audience

Co-action effect

The co-action effect It implies that when we participate in the execution of a task with other people who are also performing it, our results improve due to the greater effort we carry out. Surprisingly, the psychologist S.C. Chen He verified that this effect did not only occur among human beings. After studying the work that worker ants did digging in the sand, Chen found that those who worked in cooperation with other companions, improved their work three times more than those who did it alone. This has also been observed in the performance of other animal species.

Effect of the audience

On the other hand, the audience effect It implies that when we are observed by other people passively while executing a task that we are very confident or know how to master, our execution improves due to the motivation we feel.

Some scientists corroborated this data, such as Travis, which in 1925 stated that people with high training improved psychomotor tasks when they were observed by the public.

However, what happens when the task we are doing is not something we master or what we feel very safe?

Facilitation vs. social inhibition

Surprisingly, while the effect of social facilitation was found, a totally opposite effect: the effect of social inhibition. In 1933 Pessin He studied several subjects who had to learn a difficult task in front of an audience. The participants had to memorize a list of new words that were meaningless and it turned out that when they were observed by an audience, their performance worsened needing a greater number of essays than when they were alone.

Later, in 1956, Robert Zajonc He studied in depth this negative effect that can be observed by others and that totally contradicts the theory of social facilitation. This psychologist observed how people did simple and other more complex tasks in the presence of others and their results were clear: when the tasks to be performed are simple, either because of their low complexity or because we have great experience performing them, the presence of other people It makes us perform more and better than if we were alone.

On the other hand, when the tasks are very complex or we are not used to them, having an audience watching us is a handicap for its completion.

Thus, this inhibited effect was incorporated into the theory of social facilitation by Zajonc himself in 1965 in a new generalized hypothesis in which the basis of the two effects was taken into account: the excitement of the individual in the presence of others, Both as for well and for worse. In short, it is not being observed by others that affects us per se, but our self-perception of our abilities and what we tell ourselves about how others can judge us. That is why when we see someone doing a great performance on a stage, or on the contrary, doing something not so remarkable, perhaps we are not observing their abilities themselves, but the security that they have in themselves over their own abilities.


McLeod, S. A. (2011). Social facilitation Retrieved from //

Travis, L. E. (1925). The effect of a small audience upon eye-hand coordination.The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 20(2), 142.