Ringelmann effect

Ringelmann effect

The Ringelmann effect refers to a combination of social loafing and coordination losses. Coordination loss refers to the lack of simultaneity of effort in groups, which interferes with efficiently combining individual inputs. French agricultural engineer Maximilien Ringelmann (1861-1931) had people alone and in groups pull on a rope attached to a strain gauge to measure the pull force. Surprisingly, the sum of the individual pulls did not equal the total of the group pulls - it was less. In contemporary speak, synergy was not created. Three people pulled at only 2.5 times the average individual performance, and 8 pulled at less than a fourfold performance. The group result was much less than the sum of individual efforts. This violates the notion that group effort and a sense of team participation leads to increased effort.

Ringelmann noticed that, as you added more and more people to a group pulling on a rope, the total force exerted by the group rose, but the average force exerted by each group member declined. The Ringelmann Effect thus describes the inverse relationship between the size of a team and the magnitude of group member's individual contribution to the accomplishment of the task.

Subsequent work was carried out by Ingham et al. (1974), developing the theory further. In a replication of Ringelmann's experiment, Ingham placed participants in one of two groups: 1) much the same as in Ringelmann's original conditions, with real participants in groups of various sizes or, 2) pseudo-groups with only one real participant. In the pseudo-groups, the confederates were to pretend to pull on the rope whilst making actions as though they were really exerting themselves. A decrease in the participant's performance was, as one might expect, still found. What proves of interest here is that as there was no coordination between the participant and the stooges (they weren't physically taking part in the actions), poor communication cannot account for the decrease in effort. Therefore, motivational losses must be the cause of the performance decline. Additional losses were seen in the real groups, which can be attributed to coordination losses.


* Ingham, A.G., Levinger, G., Graves, J. and Peckham, V. (1974). The Ringelmann Effect: Studies of group size and group performance. "Journal of Experimental Social Psychology", 10, 371-84.
* Kravitz, D.A. and Martin, B. (1986). Ringelmann rediscovered: The original article. "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology", 50, 936-941.

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