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The audience effect refers to the impact that a passive audience has on a subject performing a task. It was first formally noted in various psychology studies in the early 20th century. Its origin began with the work of Norman Triplett in the 1800s. The audience effect was psychologist attempt at explaining why people would perform task with more accuracy in front of others, or completing task with great hindrance other times, and how it could be both. This idea was more explored when some studies showed the presence of a passive audience facilitated the better performance of a simple task; while other studies show 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. Contributing factors to The Audience effect could be what kind of crowd is present, such as a supportive crowd (ex. home team) or a hostile crowd (ex. away team). Also, the proximity of the crowd or the size of the crowd could effect 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 something to consider when examining The Audience Effect.
In a study conducted by MIT, donation rates increase with the presence of observers, and neuroimaging results revealed that activation in the ventral striatum before the same choice (“to donate” or “not donate”) was significantly effected by the presence of observers.
Lee Edward Travis conducted a study to find what kind of effect an audience has on an individual. Travis used an eye- hand coordination test for his study. The test was to hold a flexible pointer on a revolving target. Twenty freshmen boys. one sophomore boy and one junior boy 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.
There was a study done in 1897 by Triplett, when social psychology first began on the affect of having an audience on performance. Triplett's experiment had a simple design of comparing a cyclist performance alone with a cyclist performance racing against another cyclist. He found his results to be 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. The study done by Triplett started off a revolution of studies attempting to examine the theory that people will perform better or possibly worse in the presence of others.
Another scientist named Zajonc in 1965, was trying to figure out why some studies would show hindrance when people preformed well in front of others instead of the people performing with more accuracy. He designed an experiment that would examine the performance of someone doing a simple vs. complex task in front of others. The experiments results were that people when performing a simple task in the presence of others, they could complete it with greater accuracy then 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 more complex task, ones they are not familiar with in the presence of others, they completed it with less accuracy then when they were alone. Meaning when someone attempts to do something they have not learned or have not already mastered they tend to do worse than when they are just by themselves. Thus, social inhibition was born.
Hazel Markus from the University of Michigan conducted an experiment to test the hypothesis that the mere presence of others can influence an individual’s performance. 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, in the presence of a passive inattentive person, and 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.
- Izuma, Keise; Saito, Daisuke N.; Sadato, Norihiro (2009). "Processing of the Incentive for Social Approval in the Ventral Striatum during Charitable Donation". Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience X:Y. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. p. 1. Retrieved 22 April 2012.