Social Loafing Study

Stimulus Materials and Researcher Instructions –– Fall, 2022 – Social Loafing Study

Instructions: This Fall, we will run a series of studies looking at Social Loafing, or “The tendency for people to exert less effort when they pool their efforts toward a common goal than when they are individually accountable”. Specifically, we want to see if participants are more likely to engage in social loafing when they think that their effort at a math problem solving task is being individually assessed compared to grouped with other participants.   

In all conditions, we will tell participants that we want them to solve math problems, and that one of our goals is to see who can solve the most math problems (with the student researcher who recruited the participant who solved the most problems winning class bonus points. Sorry, though – this is not exactly true, as their will be no “winning” score and thus no bonus points. We just want participants to believe that bonus points are on the table to motivate them in their problem-solving task).

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While all participants will complete the same math problems, we will tell them one of three things: 1) that their score alone will determine the “winner”, 2) that their score will be pooled with three other participants for a final summed score that will determine the “winner”, or 3) that their score will be pooled with three other participants but then averaged across those three participants for a final score that will determine the “winner”. According to social loafing principles, participants in the pooled score conditions should complete fewer problems than participants in the individual alone condition. However, all participants should report that they worked hard at the task (that they did not loaf).

1). For your first experimental study, you will play the role of researcher, and you will collect data from three different participants. There are two phases to this study. In the first phase, you will orally ask participants if they are willing to participate in a research study. In the second phase, participants will complete a four-part survey. In Part One, participants will read instructions about the math solving task. We will tell some participants that their individual score will be assessed while we will tell others that their grouped score will be assessed (and either totaled or averaged). In Part Two, participants will complete math problems. In Part Three, participants will reflect on their performance in the math solving task. In Part Four, participants will complete demographic questions and a manipulation check question. As you collect data from participants, use the following steps:

A). Your first task is to approach three different participants (not all at the same time!). Preferably, they will be people that you do not know and did not take a psychology research methods class during the Spring or Summer semesters of 2022, or the Fall 2022 semester. Please DO NOT complete this study yourself. If possible, use only FIU students as participants (no family / friends – You will use them in a later replication study at the end of the semester, and they cannot participate twice). There are 48 students in our class, so with each student collecting data from 3 people, our final sample will be around 140 participants total.

1). Note that there is a “Covid alternative” to data collection if you are unable to collect data yourself. Ask your instructor about that option, but there is a good chance that you will already see some pre-completed “Covid Alternative” documents in Canvas.

2). Even if you use the “Covid Alternative”, read the information below, as it will help you write your future papers. You do not need to mention that you used the Covid Alternative, but you will pretend like you collected participant survey responses yourself.

B). Phase I: Informed Consent

1). Informed Consent:

  • Ask the potential participant if he or she is willing to participate in a study for your research methods class. You will get their informed consent verbally. Tell them:

“Hello, I am conducting a study for my research methods class. I was wondering if you would be willing to participate. The study takes about five to ten minutes. There are no risks to participating, and the main benefit is that I can complete my class assignment. Will you participate?”

  • An oral Yes or No response is fine. If they say no, thank them and find a different participant. If they say yes, move to the next step (Phase II – Questionnaire).

C). Phase II: “Questionnaire”

1). General Instructions

  • After getting participant’s oral informed consent, randomly give them ONE of the three “Research Study – Florida International University – Fall 2022” documents. These three documents contain our independent variable for the study (An “independent variable” is the variable that researchers control. We have one independent variable with three levels in our study, with each survey representing one of the three levels/conditions for that one independent variable). One third of our research participants will be in the “Individual Total” condition, one third will be in the “Group Total” condition, and one third will be in the “Group Average” condition (You will see more on these conditions below!).


  • Ask participants to follow the instructions at the top of the questionnaire. Tell them that they can go at their own pace and glance at all information on the first page. Make sure they complete all questionnaire parts (though note that they can leave some demographic questions blank if they do not want to provide those details). They can also complete as many (or as few!) math problems as they like. There is no minimum or maximum number of math problems that they must solve.

2). Questionnaire

  • Part One: Study Instructions
    • In this section, all participants read similar instructions about the purpose of the study and the math solving task they will complete. They will read:

Thank you for participating in this study. The purpose of the study is simple: we want to see how many math problems you can complete correctly! But this is also a competition among the student researchers. We will compare participants to see who completed the most math problems. The student researcher associated with the best performance* will receive course bonus points unavailable to other students (we will use a random drawing if there is a tie). So, complete as many math problems as you can to help the student who recruited you win!

  • Note the asterisk symbol (*) in the instructions. This * will direct participants to read one of the following:
  • In the Individual Total Condition, participants will read: *We will determine the “best performance” by looking at the total number of math problems that you and other participants complete. We will award bonus points to the student researcher who recruited the participant with the highest individual completion score.
  • In the Group Total Condition, participants will read the following: *We will determine the “best performance” by looking at the total number of math problems that you and two other participants complete. That is, the researcher who recruited you is recruiting two other participants. We will combine your score with the scores provided by the other two participants to find the total group score for all three of you. We will award bonus points to the student researcher who recruited the three participants with the highest total completion score.
  • In the Group Average Condition, participants will read the following: *We will determine the “best performance” by looking at the average number of math problems that you and two other participants complete. That is, the researcher who recruited you is recruiting two other participants. We will combine your score with the scores provided by the other two participants to find the average group score for all three of you. We will award bonus points to the student researcher who recruited the three participants with the highest average completion score.
    • All participants will then read the same final set of instructions: There is no minimum or maximum number of math problems that we expect you to complete. Please use your best judgment and stop when you feel you have completed as many problems as you want. While you are free to use a calculator, that is optional. If you need additional room beyond the space provided below, ask the student researcher for spare scratch paper.


  • Part Two: Math Problems
    • The Part Two instructions are identical across all conditions, telling participants the following: The math problems are relatively simple. We want you to square as many numbers as you can in numerical sequence. That is, multiply each number by itself. For example, 1 X 1 = 1 and 2 X 2 = 4, and 3 X 3 = 9, Although you can stop at any time, please do not skip any cells in the numerical sequence.
      • Participants will see a grid-like table where they can complete the math problems. There are 42 cells total. Participants can thus complete from 0 to 42 problems in this table. If they need help getting started, show them where they can write the answers “1” for 1 X 1 in the cell or “4” for 2 X 2.
        • Although the instructions tell participants they can complete additional math problems using spare scratch paper, we will not have participants complete problems beyond this page, even if they seem willing. Thus, the maximum number we will have them complete is 42, but I doubt participants will complete more than 21 problems (or half of them).
      • Data Analysis Note:
        • In this study, our most important dependent variable (or variable that we will measure) is how many math problems participants attempt. They can complete up to 42 problems, giving us a ratio scale ranging from 0 to 42.
        • After participants complete all sections and you debrief them, return to Part Two and determine how many math problems the participant completed. Write that number in the survey footer at the bottom of the first page (You will see the note “For research use only. T = ______”. Add the number in that space). This “Total Math Score” number is based on completion rate, not attempts, so only include math problems that the participant completed.
          • IMPORTANT: You do not need to total or average the participant score in the Group Total and Group Average conditions. To better compare scores among the three study conditions, write the total individual score for each individual participant regardless of their condition. Thus, each participant will have an individual score ranging from 0 to 42
        • We will analyze this variable using a One-Way ANOVA since there are three levels / groups in the single independent variable and most of our dependent variables are ratio or interval. We will discuss this more for Paper Two later this semester!
      • After completing Part Two, all participants move to Part Three


  • Part Three: Thoughts About Your Performance
    • In this section, participants rate six statements regarding their performance, all rated on an interval scale of 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 7 (Strongly Agree). These statements are identical across all study conditions.
      • Statement 1 focuses on how they feel they performed compared to others
      • Statement 2 focuses on whether they believe they could have attempted more math problems than they actually did
      • Statement 3 focuses on individual accountability
      • Statement 4 focuses on how they feel about the goal of the study
      • Statement 5 focuses on how enjoyable they found the math problems
      • Statement 6 focuses on their feelings about social loafing (though not using that actual “social loafing” phrase!)
    • Data Analysis Note:
      • For Paper Two, you will likely only analyze one of these statements with an ANOVA. The choice of which one to look at is up to you, but make sure your choice is based on the hypotheses you are testing. My advice is to concentrate on Statement 1 or 2 in your future analyses (in addition to the “Number of problems attempted” from Part Two)
        • Statements 1, 2 and 6 are interesting in that I actually do not expect any differences based on condition. That is, while most people know about social loafing, they rarely think that they themselves engage in social loafing! Thus, regardless of condition, I expect all participants to think that they performed above average and that could not have completed more problems than they did. Participants in all conditions should also strongly agree that social loafing occurs (for Statement 6).
          • Ironically, a “null” finding for each of these three statements (that the conditions do not differ) would be the ideal result.
        • Statements 3 and 4 focus on different elements of social loafing. My hope is that those in the “individual condition” will think their score is more identifiable for Statement 3 than those in the “group total” and “group average” conditions. This might serve as a good interval scale manipulation check for the study (though I prefer to use statement 7 in Part Four as a manipulation check). Social loafing tends to diminish when participants find the goals of the task important, so we can use Statement 4 as a “moderating variable” (a variable that affects the relationship between other study variables, like our manipulation and how many math problems the participant completed in Part Two). Moderating variables are a bit beyond the material we cover in class, so we will probably skip data analysis for this variable.
        • Statement 5 less important as a dependent variable. I do not expect differences for it and there are no real hypotheses for it, but research shows that those who find a task challenging, appealing, or involving are less likely to engage in social loafing.


  • Part Three: Demographic Information
    • In this section, participants provide their demographic information in questions 1 through 6. Most of these items are easy to complete without violating participant’s privacy, but let them know they are free to leave blank any questions they do not wish to answer in this section.
    • In question 7, we ask participants to recall what we told them about the “Best performance” definition in the general instructions. This is a really important question, as it provides our study manipulation check (to see if participants paid attention to our manipulation).
    • Data Analysis Note:
      • We report the mean and standard deviation (or SD) for age in Question 2 and descriptive statistics for gender and race/ethnicity (for Questions 1 / 3)
      • For Question 7, we will use a chi square to see if participants recall what we told them the “Best performance” entails. We want participants in the Individual Condition to select the “Highest individual score” option; for participants in the Group Total Condition to select the “Highest total group score” option; and those in the Group Average Condition to select the “Highest average group score” option.

A quick note for you (the researcher): If you look at the bottom of the questionnaire on the first page, you will see the letters I, GT, and GA. Those relate to the condition for that specific survey. The IT stands for Individual Total, the GT stands for Group Total, and the GA stands for Group Average. These initials will help YOU quickly know which survey is which, though the initials should be meaningless for participants. No need to mention this in your future papers, but it is a good way to keep track of your surveys 


D). Once participants complete the questionnaire, debrief them regarding the social loafing study. That is, tell them about the study conditions and hypothesis. Read the following:

“This study investigates the psychological concept of “social loafing”, or the tendency for people to exert less effort when they pool their efforts toward a common goal than when they are individually accountable. In our study, we asked all participants to complete the same set of math problems (squaring all numbers in sequence), and we told them we would compare scores across participants to see who had the best performance. But we altered the definition of “best performance” across three different study conditions. In our first condition, we told participants we would look at their individual performance score. In our second condition, we told participants we would pool their performance score with the scores of two other participants collected by the same student researcher and use this total score as the basis for the “best performance”. In our final condition, we also told participants we would pool their performance score with the scores of two other participants collected by the same student researcher but that we would use this average score as the basis for the “best performance”. Thus, in one condition participant performance is individually examined while in the other two conditions performance is based on a group score (either the total or the average).


We have two predictions. First, if participants are told that their individual total score will be the basis of the “best performance”, then they will attempt to solve more problems than those who are told their score will be pooled with the scores of two other participants (resulting in either a group total score or a group average score), with no differences expected between these two group-based conditions. Second, since prior research suggests that people tend to think that they themselves do not engage in social loafing, we predict that all participants—regardless of their study condition—will agree that they completed more math problems than the average participant.”


In other words, participants who think their individual contributions are more identifiable will work harder on the task than those who think their contribution is pooled with others, but all participants will think they worked equally hard.  


Once again, thank you for participating in this study!


**Methods Students: Note that the underlined paragraphs above will be helpful when you write Paper I! In fact, you can use the underlined paragraphs in your first paper if you like (just copy and paste them into your literature review). However, the predictions ARE NOT INCLUDED in your minimum page count. That is, you can copy/paste the predictions, but they do not count in the page minimum!


Also note that we have seven different dependent measures in this study (excluding variables in the demographic section), which means that we could have seven different hypotheses, one for each DV. Of course, the most important dependent variable is in Part Two (Math Problems). You will need to determine how many problems each individual participant attempted and write that number (ranging from 0 to 42) in the page one footer. Look for the note “For research use only: T = ______” and write the number of math problems completed in that space. The other six dependent variables are in Part Three: Thoughts About Your Performance. Technically, each of these six dependent variables has its own prediction, but the two DVs underlined above are the ones we will look at (Total Math Problem number and Part Two, Statement #1). If you want to analyze statements #2 through #6 you will need to write a prediction for that statement and include it in your literature review for Paper One.


2). Hold onto the completed questionnaires, as you will use them in an upcoming lab. You will enter data into SPSS and analyze it during your lab. Important note: Each student researcher is responsible for collecting data from three participants (one participant for each study condition – Individual Total, Group Total and Group Average). However, we will combine survey data from each student in your lab section, so your final sample will include at least 100 to 140 or so participants. In your papers (especially Paper II), you will use this total set of research participants (at least 100), NOT just the three that you collected yourself. Don’t even discuss “Three participants”, as that is not correct. Discuss ALL participants in your papers

3). One last note: Pay close attention to these instructions! You can use them as the basis for Paper II later this semester when you discuss your methods section. That being said, these instructions are too long for a methods section, and includes information you will need to omit for Paper II. When writing that paper, make sure to only report the important aspects (what you actually did in the study). Write about what you actually did in the study!


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