Group Leadership

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Group Leadership
Chapter 14
Social Psychology
athletes like Lindsay Davenport, shown
here winning the women’s singles championship at Wimbledon in 2005, are able
to perform at their best even though
large crowds are present. In fact, the
crowds probably help them do well,
because the presence of others tends to
increase arousal, which enhances the
performance of familiar and well-learned
skills, such as tennis strokes. However,
arousal created by an audience tends to
interfere with the performance of unfamiliar and poorly developed skills. This is
one reason that professional athletes
who show flawless grace in front of
thousands of fans are likely to freeze up
or blow their lines in front of a small
production crew when trying for the first
time to tape a TV ad or a public service
social impairment A reduction in performance due to the presence of other
social loafing
Exerting less effort
when performing a group task than
when performing the same task alone.
a process known as social impairment. For decades, these results seemed contradictory; then Robert Zajonc (pronounced “ZYE-onze”) suggested that both effects could
be explained by one process: arousal.
The presence of other people, said Zajonc, increases a person’s general level of arousal
or motivation (Zajonc, 1965). Why? One reason is that being watched by others increases
our sense of being evaluated, producing worry that in turn increases emotional arousal
(Penner & Craiger, 1992). Arousal increases the tendency to perform those behaviors
that are most dominant—the ones you know best. This tendency can either help or hinder performance. When you are performing an easy, familiar task, such as riding a bike,
increased arousal due to the presence of others should allow you to ride even faster than
normal. But when a task is hard or unfamiliar—such as trying new dance steps or playing a newly learned piano piece in front of an audience—the most dominant responses
may be incorrect and cause performance to suffer. In other words, the impact of other
people on performance depends on whether the task is easy or difficult.
What if a person is not merely in the presence of others, but is working with them
on some task? In these situations, people often exert less effort than when performing
alone, a phenomenon called social loafing (Liden et al., 2004). Whether the task is
pulling on a rope, clapping as loudly as possible, or trying to solve mental puzzles, people tend to work harder when alone than with others. Research in industrial/organizational psychology suggests that social loafing is most likely when large groups work on
the same task (making each member’s contribution harder to evaluate), when the group
is not closely knit, and when members feel they are not being rewarded according to
their performance (Liden et al., 2004; Szymanski, Garczynski, & Harkins, 2000).
In Western cultures, social loafing appears in groups of all sorts, from volunteer committees to search parties. It is much less likely among people in Eastern cultures such as
those in China and Japan. In fact, in these collectivist cultures, working in a group usually produces social striving—defined as greater individual effort when working in a group
(Matsumoto, 2000). This difference in the effects of group membership on individual
efforts probably reflects the high value that collectivist cultures place on coordinated
and cooperative group activities.
Group Leadership
The role of group leaders is especially important when social loafing and other obstacles threaten to impair the effectiveness of group efforts. A good leader can help a group
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