Social Facilitation: When It’s Helpful and When It’s Not

I’ve played the piano for several years and I’ve always had trouble playing in front of a large crowd. Whenever a recital approached, I dreaded that day for weeks. A couple of years ago, social facilitation came into play while I was performing. I had to play two songs and one of them I had practiced much more than the other and I felt very confident with it. The second one was a harder piece and I felt like I could have had a couple more weeks of practice to perfect it. When the time came to play the two songs in front of 150 people, I played the first song perfectly. Unfortunately, the second song didn’t go so well. I peeked at the audience and suddenly became aware of the hundreds of eyes on me. I blanked halfway through the song and could not finish it. Both songs are examples of how social facilitation can help your performance and also impede it. In the case of the first song, playing the song was an easy, well-learned task and I felt very prepared to play it. The mere presence of others, therefore, improved my performance. In the case of the second song, playing the song was more difficult because I did not have enough time to practice it. The mere presence of others, therefore, had the opposite effect and hindered my performance. If I had known about the phenomenon of social facilitation I probably would’ve spent more time on the second song or just scrapped it all together and focused solely on the first one. In the future, I will take into account social facilitation when I am making the decision of how well I want to do on a task and the people that will be around me as I am completing it.

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