Oct
13
2010

Co-action effect: Why doing things together improves your performance

crimeI started working out in the gym when I was sixteen. I lived in the US during that time and my host-brother, a buff venezuelan guy named Carlo, got me into it. I figured it could probably help me with the girls at my school, so I  joined Carlo and worked out with him three to four times a week.

I still go to the gym today. Most of the time I work out alone though. Sometimes, after a long day at work for example, I find myself  just sitting there and staring out the window. I feel tired and lazy and a lot of times I’m tempted to stop my work out and rather take a hot shower. Everytime that happens, I think of the times when I went to the gym with Carlo and I wonder why I never had this feeling when we did our work out together.

I’ve experienced this phenomenon in many areas in life and I’m sure that many of you have too.

What we’re talking about here is a scientifically examined phenomenon called the “co-action” effect.

crimeThe earliest research on this subject was conducted by Norman Triplett in 1898.
He noticed that cyclists achieved better performances in the presence of other cyclists compared to athletes thatraced by themselves. Triplett tested professional cyclists in three different racing conditions:

Group A: alone, un-paced against time.
Group B: alone, paced against time and in competition to a pace-maker.
Grup C: paced and in competition to other athletes.

Thes results of this study cleary showed better performances in group C.

The performances of cyclists who competed against other cyclists were 25% greater than the performances of athletes that competed alone and against time.

These findings have been verified many times.
Chen (1937) showed that workers shovel more sand, when they work together. Allport (1920) showed that students solve more mathematical problems, when working in a team.

However there are a few drawbacks though. There have been studies that show some inconsitency in this phenomenon. Especially when it comes to very complicated tasks and high pressure, working together or in competition might lead to opposed results.

To sum up, you could say that you’re probably going to perform better in a group if you’re aiming for quantity and simple tasks (faster times, going to the gym).
If you’re aiming for quality though (writing an article, etc.), it seems that you might be better of, working by yourself.

Never underestimate the power of the people around you. They have a huge influence on your performance.

Any contributions or criticism? Please feel free to comment!

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  • [...] and secondary research in BetterAt, we’ve looked at the social facilitation effect, and coaction — which seems to strike a perfect balance of collaboration and [...]

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