Social facilitation refers to the phenomenon of how the presence of another human can impair or improve one’s task performance. The effects of social facilitation is widely studied in the context of sports. For example, an ace tennis player may be able to play a better game in the presence of an audience.
There are various theoretical explanations for this effect. For example, based on the activation theory, the arousal levels of people are elevated in the presence of others. This heightened arousal then increases performance in well-learned tasks. Conversely, there is also the evaluation apprehension theory, according to which, it is not the presence of others but the fear of being evaluated that increases arousal in performers.
Now, if human performance is affected by the presence of another human, does it mean that human performance is also affected by the presence of an anthropomorphic agent?
According to this article, social facilitation effects holds true in the presence of an anthropomorphic agent as well. The researchers found that when participants were given an easy task to perform, their performance was better when they were in the company of a virtual human than when they were alone. Conversely, when participants were given a difficult task to perform, their performance was worse when they were in the company of a virtual human.
Think of this when designing interfaces with anthropomorphic agents!
Photo credit: Jupiter Firelyte (Berries & Latte) via Wikimedia Commons.