Evolutionary Social History and Social Facilitation in Non-Human Animals

Graduation Year


Publication Date

Spring 2018


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Social facilitation is the psychological phenomenon where humans tend to perform better on well-rehearsed tasks in the presence of an audience as opposed to when they are alone. However, for unfamiliar or difficult tasks, humans tend to perform worse when an audience is present (Allport, 1924; Zajonc, 1965). Investigations of this effect in non-human animals are limited, and to our knowledge primarily focus on social animals (Bayer, 1929; Chen, 1937; Harlow, 1932; Harlow & Yudin, 1933; Reynaud et al., 2015). It remains to be seen if social facilitation is only present in animals that have evolved to live in social groups rather than animals evolved to be solitary. The present study aimed to determine whether social evolution drove social facilitation to promote social cohesion in group-living animals, or if social facilitation is a product of some other mechanism, (e.g. arousal), such that it would present in solitary or asocial species as well. To test these theories, we recruited several species with different evolutionary backgrounds (solitary/asocial: orangutans, tigers, grizzly bears, river otters; social: meerkats, gorillas, seals, sea lions; and domesticated: domestic dogs), and evaluated their performance on both easy and difficult tasks in the presence of no audience, a conspecific audience, and a human audience. Results did not demonstrate a social facilitation effect, but did expose an interesting trend of observer, such that all animals displayed shorter latency for both easy and hard tasks in the presence of a conspecific and displayed longer latency with a human observer compared to when they were on their own.



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