Social Loafing

Cite this article as:"Social Loafing," in The Business Professor, updated April 13, 2020, last accessed October 26, 2020,

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What is Social Loafing?

Social loafing, also known as the Ringelmann effect, occurs when members of a group do not work as hard simply because they are in the group context rather than working individually.

The tendency of social loafing was first identified by Max Ringelmann in 1913. His studies demonstrated that when pulling on a rope (such as in tug of war), individuals do not pull as hard when part of a group. Interestingly, as the size of the group grows, this effect becomes more prominent. The belief is that individuals are less motivated because they feel as though their contribution has less impact on success or failure.

Related concepts are the:

  • “Free rider effect” – The free-rider effect is when individuals consciously work less under the belief that others will do their share of the work.
  • Sucker effect” –  The sucker effect is when individuals reduce their efforts because they are put off by the unfairness of having the free-rider in the group.
    The sucker effect and free-rider effect demonstrate the effect of perceptions of fairness or equity in the situation. Perceptions of fairness have been shown to affect social loafing. That is, social loafing is less common in groups that distribute work and reward fairly or perceive that everyone pulls their weight.

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