Thursday, July 5, 2012

Birth of a Smirk: Free Riders and Social Loafers

Birth of a smirk -- free-riders and social loafers.

Free Riders

From ye Wiki: In economics, collective bargaining, psychology, and political science, a free rider (or freeloader) is someone who enjoys the benefits of an activity without paying for it. The free rider may withhold effort or resources, or may impose the costs of his or her activities on others. The free rider problem is the question of how to limit free riding (or its negative effects).

One consequence of free riding is the excessive use of a common property resource: because people do not take into account the impacts of their actions on others, they take too much from the common pool. In public economics, free riding can lead to the non-production or under-production of a public good. In both of these cases, free riding leads to Pareto inefficiency.

The term free rider comes from the example of someone using public transportation without paying the fare. If too many people do this, the system will not have enough money to operate. Another example of a free rider is someone who does not pay his or her share of taxes, which help pay for public goods that all citizens benefit from, such as roads, water treatment plants, and fire services.

There is considerable debate about the empirical significance of free riding. One famous article asked "Economists free ride. Does anyone else?" Studies generally find that there is some free riding, but less than one would expect based on the predictions of economic theory. Free-riding is most likely to occur in large, anonymous groups, in one-off interactions, and when the stakes are high. The research of Elinor Ostrom and others has found that social norms and institutions can limit the extent of free riding by sanctioning those who do not contribute, or take more than their share from the common pool.

Those seen as free riders are often resented because they are thought to be taking more than their fair share of a resource or failing to shoulder any part of the cost of it. They cause teams to perform less well because other members become less willing to contribute when they think that one or more members are free riding.

People also dislike those they perceive to be free riders because they have a strong aversion to being a sucker (see "sucker effect").

One of the few cases in which neoclassical economists support government provision of goods or intervention in markets, markets for public goods, which may attract free rider problems, will not come to rest at the appropriate equilibrium when left to the invisible hand alone. For example, most governments supply national defense, police forces, and disaster aid which might be vastly under-produced by the private sector. There is some disagreement among economists about which outcomes should not be left to market forces alone, however most would list national defense as a good best produced and distributed by governments.

Wimpy, the ultimate free rider.

Social loafing

In the social psychology of groups, social loafing is the phenomenon of people exerting less effort to achieve a goal when they work in a group than when they work alone.

Social loafing is also associated with two concepts that are typically used to explain why it occurs: The "free-rider" theory and the resulting "sucker effect", which is an individual’s reduction in effort in order to avoid pulling the weight of a fellow group member.

Research on social loafing began with rope pulling experiments by Ringelmann, who found that members of a group tended to exert less effort into pulling a rope than did individuals alone. In more recent research, studies involving modern technology, such as online and distributed groups, has also shown clear evidence of social loafing. Many of the causes of social loafing stem from an individual feeling that his or her effort will not matter to the group.

The first known research on the social loafing effect began in 1913 with Max Ringelmann's study. He found that when he asked a group of men to pull on a rope, that they did not pull as hard collectively, as they did when each was pulling alone. This research did not distinguish whether it was the individuals putting in less effort or poor coordination within the group.

In 1974, Alan Ingham and colleagues replicated Ringelmann's experiment using two types of groups: 1) Groups with real participants in groups of various sizes (consistent with Ringelmann's setup) or 2) Pseudo-groups with only one real participant. In the pseudo-groups, the researchers' assistants pretended to pull on the rope. The results showed a decrease in the participant's performance, with groups of participants who all exerted effort suffering the largest declines.

Because the pseudo-groups were isolated from coordination effects (since the researchers' confederates did not physically pull the rope), Ingham proved that communication alone did not account for the effort decrease, and that motivational losses were the more likely cause of the performance decline.

Bibb Latané et al. replicated previous social loafing findings while demonstrating that the decreased performance of groups was attributable to reduced individual effort, distinct from coordination loss. They showed this by blindfolding male college students while making them wear headphones that masked all noise. They then asked them to shout both in actual groups and pseudogroups in which they shouted alone but believed they were shouting with others. When subjects believed one other person was shouting, they shouted 82% as intensely as they did alone, but with five others, their effort decreased to 74%.

Increasing the number of people in a group diminishes the relative social pressure on each person: "If the individual inputs are not identifiable the person may work less hard. Thus if the person is dividing up the work to be performed or the amount of reward he expects to receive, he will work less hard in groups."

As the number of people in the group increase, people tend to feel deindividuation. This term defines both the dissociation from individual achievement and the decrease of personal accountability, resulting in lower exerted effort for individuals in collaborative environments.
People could simply feel "lost in the crowd," so they feel that their effort would not be rewarded even if they put it forth. This idea can also cause people to feel as though they can simply "hide in the crowd" and avoid the averse effects of not applying themselves.

In 1964, an attack on a woman named Kitty Genovese occurred outside an apartment building as witnessed by 38 of her neighbors. Out of the 38 witnesses, not even one person called the police. Following the incident, psychological research focused on the theory that everyone who was watching simply assumed that someone else would call the police. By thinking that someone else had already or was about to take action, others did not think it was necessary to do anything themselves.

When a group member does not feel that his/her effort is justified in the context of the overall group, the individual will be less willing to assert the effort. If the group size is large, members can feel that their contribution will not be worth much to the overall cause because so many other contributions can or should occur. This leads people to not contribute as much or at all in large groups as they might have in smaller groups.

Most people say that voting is important, and a good practice for them to do. However, every year a sub-optimal percentage of Americans turn up to vote, especially in presidential elections (only 51% in the 2000 election). One vote may feel very small in a group of millions, so people may not think it is worth it to vote. If too many people think this way, there is a small percentage of voter turnout.

"Sucker" effect/Aversion

People feel that others in the group will leave them to do all work while they take the credit. Because people do not want to feel like the "sucker," so they wait to see how much effort others will put into a group before they put any in. If all the members try to avoid being the sucker, then everyone's effort will be significantly less than it would be if all of them were working as hard as they could.

For example, in a workplace environment, the establishment of an absence culture creates an attitude that all employees deserve to have a certain number of days of absence, regardless of whether or not they are actually sick. Therefore, if an employee has not used the maximum number of absence days, "he may feel that he is carrying an unfair share of the workload."

If someone feels that others in the group are slacking or that others will slack, he will lower his effort to match that of the others. This can occur whether it is apparent that the others are slacking or if someone simply believes that the group is slacking.

Social loafing is a behavior that organizations want to eliminate. Understanding how and why people become social loafers is critical to the effective functioning, competitiveness and effectiveness of an organization.

The answer to social loafing may be motivation. A competitive environment may not necessarily get group members motivated.

Collaboration is a way to get everyone involved in the group by assigning each member special, meaningful tasks. It is a way for the group members to share the knowledge and the tasks to be fulfilled unfailingly. For example, if Sally and Paul were loafing because they were not given specific tasks, then giving Paul the note taker duty and Sally the brainstorming duty will make them feel essential to the group. Sally and Paul will be less likely to want to let the group down, because they have specific obligations to complete.

Content identifies the importance of the individual's specific tasks within the group. If group members see their role as that involved in completing a worthy task, then they are more likely to fulfill it. For example, Sally may enjoy brainstorming, as she knows that she will bring a lot to the group if she fulfills this obligation. She feels that her obligation will be valued by the group.

Choice gives the group members the opportunity to choose the task they want to fulfill. Assigning roles in a group causes complaints and frustration. Allowing group members the freedom to choose their role makes social loafing less significant, and encourages the members to work together as a team.

Ability and motivation are essential, but insufficient for effective team functioning. A team must also coordinate the skills, efforts, and actions of its members in order to effectively achieve its goal.

Increase identifiability
Promote involvement
Reward team members for performance
Strengthen team cohesion
Increase personal responsibility
Use team contracts
Provide team performance reviews and feedback
Using single-digit teams
Having an agenda
Training team members together
Spending more time practicing
Minimizing links in communication
Setting clear performance standards

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