The Complete Elimination of Social Loafing in Group Projects

What is Social Loafing?

Social Loafing is a cognitive process that occurs in a group setting in which individuals do not pull their weight to help maximize the group dynamic. Social loafing is not specific to known slackers. Social loafing is a cognitive decision that is made by every individual depending on the circumstance. This can happen because of:

  • Unfamiliarity with the subject of the project or members in the group.
  • The consequence of everyone in the group getting the same grade, therefore eliminating the need for the member to produce their best work.
  • A decreased level of interest on the subject of the project than the rest of the group. (Comer 1995)

Why does Social Loafing Happen?

Social loafing can occur in physical contexts, such as rope pulling, sports, or crowd participation at sporting events, or cognitive contexts, such as brainstorming as a group, group lab work, or even contributions to online forums like this one.

Social loafing transpires because of two general issues:

  1. First the communication between the group members is poor (or there are issues in coordination) such as every group member unknowingly writing the same idea, or not all members of the group paddling in time with the drum in a dragon boat race.
  2. Second, there is a decrease in motivation of one or more members of a group. A good example of this second problem is a group member cognitively deciding to reject a project because they did not get their own way. (van Dick, Tissington, Hertel, 2009)

In both cases, individuals guilty of social loafing did so because they figured their individual ideas, or efforts would not be identified, or because they thought their ideas were not necessary to include in a project with more extroverted members. (van Dick, Tissington , & Hertel ,2009)

How Can Social Loafing be Completely Eliminated?

Here are two ways to reduce or eliminate social loafing in your group projects:

  1. Often, an excuse that social loafers will make to excuse their behaviour is the statement:

My schedule is so full, I have no time to meet up and get this project done. Just assign me a small part to research and write about, and I’ll email it later.”

This statement removes the onus from the loafer, forcing the rest of the group members to divide up tasks and assign a topic to the loafer that has a low time commitment. Research from Stevens M.C. shows that using technology can help move the project forward. Using a public, live forum that every member of the group can access (such as Google Docs) eliminates the need for the group to physically meet up at all and takes away the excuse for not being able to meet in person. The fact that it is live shows the group exactly who is contributing and how much each person is contributing. Assigning each group member a particular colour of font can help maintain responsibility to match the length and quality of their information with that of their peers. (Stevens, 2007)

  1. A big conflict in any group project arises at the end of the project when group members come forward with the true feelings of their fellow group members.

“John didn’t do an equal amount of work as the rest of us on this project!”

“Kate and Mary took over the project and demanded it all be done a certain way! There wasn’t anything I felt I could uniquely contribute!”

A genius marking scale provided by Stevens M.C. (see Figure 1.) presents a nine point marking scale, placing 5 (the top mark) in the middle of the scale. The scale accounts for group members who may have put too little into the project, and group members who completely took control of the project. A one on the five point scale is awarded to both those who do not do enough, and those who do too much. A five on the five point scale represents the group member working with the perfect amount of group participation: contributing unique and insightful ideas, while not making their ideas the spotlight of the presentation. (Stevens, 2007)


Figure 1: Image of sample peer grade scale from Margaret Carnes Stevens.

Next time a group project is assigned in one of your University classes, talk to the professor about these two tips to reduce or even eliminate social loafing in your group project.


Comer, R. (1995). A Model of Social Loafing in Real Work Groups. Human Relations, 48 (6), 647-667.

Stevens, M.C. (2007). The Quick Fix: Making Groups Work. College Teaching, 55 (2), 88.

van Dick, R., Tissington P. , &Hertel G. ,(2009). Do many hands make light work? How to overcome social loafing and gain motivation in work teams. European Business Review, 21(3), 233-245.