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. This is seen as one of the main reasons groups are sometimes less productive than the combined performance of their members working as individuals, but should be distinguished from the coordination problems that groups sometime experience. 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. Therefore, effective ways to reduce social loafing involve increasing the motivation of individual group members or improving their coordination.