Yerkes-Dodson effect in social facilitation tasks

Don Eugene Wiger, Fordham University


Social facilitation refers to the finding that the presence of an audience sometimes hinders and sometimes enhances task performance. Drive based theories have suggested that increasing motivation on simple or well-learned tasks enhances performance, while increasing motivation on complex or novel tasks decreases performance. Researchers have posited that social facilitation tasks are subject to the Yerkes-Dodson Law, which states that task performance is a curvilinear (inverted-U shape) function of drive. That is, performance is elevated with moderate amounts of drive, but decreases with low or high amounts of drive. However, this "law" has not been supported to date. Performance effects which are consistent with drive enhancement have been shown to occur in past studies with increasing levels of both proximity and experimenter status. The present study combined these sources of drive enhancement in an attempt to increase drive to a point where performance on both simple and complex tasks could suffer. In addition, subjects were also given a self-consciousness questionnaire to identify those people who are high in public self-consciousness, who may be more sensitive to drive and the Yerkes-Dodson effects. A total of 176 college freshmen and sophomores took part in the study. Each were presented with 12 sets of both simple and complex word-association pairs, and asked to recall as many as possible on each of ten separate trials. Performance was based on the total number of correct responses to the stimulus words out of 120 trials. The experimenters presented themselves in a way to suggest either high or low status. Crossed with this manipulation, the experimenters positioned themselves at one of three distances from the subject during the task. No evidence was found for a Yerkes-Dodson effect in social facilitation tasks. None of the variables employed significantly affected task performance. Several questions are raised concerning possible experimental manipulation flaws and whether social facilitation tasks are actually subject to the Yerkes-Dodson Law.

Subject Area

Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Wiger, Don Eugene, "Yerkes-Dodson effect in social facilitation tasks" (1989). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8918648.