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The Ringelmann effect is a phenomenon seen in groups where individual participants in the group tend to decrease effort and coordination on projects. This has important implications for the study of group dynamics, especially for activities like sports, where effort of individual group members is key to the success of the team as a whole. Social psychologists study this and other topics through observations of groups, carefully designed experiments, and retroactive evaluation of group performance. This concept is often discussed in introductory psychology classes, especially social or group psychology courses.
The phenomenon is named for Maximilien Ringelmann, a researcher who developed a theory in conjunction with an experiment where participants were asked to pull a rope so he could measure the force they exerted. He found that in larger groups, individual effort declined, exerting less combined force. Ringelmann theorized that individual efforts were declining, and that the group members also had trouble coordinating to make their effort work.
Research into the Ringelmann effect has shown that perceived levels of effort on the part of other group members also play a role. When researchers added some assistants to a replica of the experiment and directed their assistants to act like they were engaging in heavy effort when they actually weren't, force exerted by other members of the group declined. The harder the assistants appeared to work, the more markedly the Ringelmann effect developed.
In sports and other team activities where members of a group need to work together to accomplish a common goal, social loafing like the Ringelmann effect can be a serious problem. Overall average effort per individual can tend to go down, even as some members of the group may work harder to make up for their slacking companions. Social scientists have an interest in learning how this behavior develops and how to combat it in real-world applications where it can be critical to get members of a group to give more effort to a task.
Numerous experiments can demonstrate the Ringelmann effect and test its limits. Researchers can design a variety of experiments to explore various aspects of this phenomenon. Whenever an experiment involves human subjects, it needs to be evaluated by an ethics committee, which can determine whether the experiment adds to the body of knowledge on the subject, adequately protects the welfare of participants, and is clearly well-designed and organized. The committee may reject the experiment as designed and request revisions to the proposal.