Audience effect

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The audience effect refers to the impact that a passive audience has on a subject performing a task. Its origin began with the work of Norman Triplett in the 1800s, and it was first formally noted in various psychology studies in the early 20th century. The audience effect is an attempt at psychologically explaining why the presence of an audience leads to people performing tasks better in some cases and worse in others.[1] This idea was further explored when some studies showed that the presence of a passive audience facilitated the better performance of a simple task, while other studies showed that the presence of a passive audience inhibited the performance of a more difficult task or one that was not well practiced, possibly due to psychological pressure or stress. (See Yerkes–Dodson law.)

Contributing factors[edit]

Contributing factors to the audience effect could include what kind of crowd is present, such as a supportive crowd (e.g., the crowd at a team's home ground) or a hostile crowd (e.g., the crowd when a team is playing an away game). Also, the proximity of the crowd or the size of the crowd could influence the result of the audience effect. More factors such as nature of the task, coping skills with potential negative effects of audience, and even the playing venue (home or away) could be things to consider when examining the audience effect.[2]

Major findings[edit]

There was a study done in 1897 by Triplett,[2] when social psychology first started studying the affect on performance of having an audience. Triplett's experiment had a simple design; a cyclist's performance when alone was compared with a cyclist's performance when racing against another cyclist. He found that the cyclist was slowest when he was only racing the clock and not another cyclist. He attributed these results to a competitive instinct which releases energy that was not available when peddling alone. Triplett's study started off a revolution of studies attempting to examine the theory that people's performance is influenced by the presence of others.

Lee Edward Travis conducted a study to find what kind of effect an audience has on an individual.[3] Travis used an eye–hand coordination test (holding a flexible pointer on a revolving target) for his study. Twenty freshmen males, one sophomore male, and one junior male were used as the subjects. The small audience consisted of four to eight upper classmen and graduate students and was an equal number of men and women. Each observer practiced in the presence of the experimenter, and their learning curve was plotted each day. When the subject attained his maximum efficiency, the passive audience was brought in. Some of the subjects showed superior coordination when the audience was present.

In 1956, Robert Zajonc[2] was trying to figure out why some studies showed people's performance being hindered by the presence of others rather than being made more accurate. He designed an experiment that would examine the performance of someone doing a simple vs. complex task in front of others. He found that, when people were performing a simple task in the presence of others, they could complete it with greater accuracy than when they were alone. This was something most psychologist were aware of at this time. However, what Zajonc found that was revolutionary in this time period was that, when people attempt to perform tasks which are more complex or with which they are not familiar, they complete it with less accuracy when in the presence of others than when they alone. Thus, social inhibition was born.

Hazel Markus of the University of Michigan conducted an experiment to test the hypothesis that the mere presence of others can influence an individual's performance.[4] A task that lacked a rubric structure and was likely to cause the subject to be apprehensive of how they would be evaluated was used. Performance times on the task of dressing and undressing in familiar and unfamiliar clothing were compared with subjects working alone, working in the presence of a passive inattentive person, and working in the presence of an attentive spectator. Compared to the alone condition, both social conditions (audience and incidental audience) enhanced performance on the well-learned aspects of the task of dressing and undressing with the subject's own familiar clothing and hindered the subject's performance on the more complex aspects of the task of dressing and undressing using unfamiliar clothing. It was concluded that the presence of others is a sufficient condition for social facilitation and social interference effects. Therefore, the presence of an audience causes an individual to do better on a simple task or worse on a more complicated task.

In a 2010 study, donation rates increased with the presence of observers, and neuroimaging revealed that the presence of observers significantly affected activation in the ventral striatum before the choice of whether or not to donate.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Aiello, John R.; Douthitt, Elizabeth A. (2001). "Social Facilitation From Triplett to Economic Performance Monitoring" (PDF). Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice 5 (3): 163–180. doi:10.1037/1089-2699.5.3.163. Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c [1]
  3. ^ Travis, Lee Edward (July 1925). "The effect of a small audience upon eye-hand coordination" (PDF). Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 20 (2): 142–146. doi:10.1037/h0071311. Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  4. ^ Markus, Hazel (1978). "The Effect of Mere Presence on Social Facilitation: An Unobtrusive Test" (PDF). Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 14: 389–397. doi:10.1016/0022-1031(78)90034-3. Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  5. ^ Izuma, Keise; Saito, Daisuke N.; Sadato, Norihiro (April 2010). "Processing of the Incentive for Social Approval in the Ventral Striatum during Charitable Donation". Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (MIT Press) 22 (4): 621–631. doi:10.1162/jocn.2009.21228.