The Psychology Underlying Social Loafing in Dispersed and Large Teams

Dr. Sankara Srinivasan Discusses Our Research On The Psychology Underlying Social Loafing In Dispersed And Large Teams.

Dr. Sankara Srinivasan, one of our former PhD students while I was on faculty at the University of Arkansas, gave an interview about our research on the drivers of social loafing in team collaboration. The findings were being presented at the International Conference on Information Systems. The research that Dr. Srinivasan presented was a follow-up to work that my colleague Dr. Lionel Robert Jr., Dr. Omar Alnuaimi (who is also a graduate of the PhD program at the University of Arkansas) and I published in Journal of Management Information Systems in 2010.

We were well aware of the prevailing view that team settings in which (1) members are distributed across different physical locations (i.e., team dispersion) and (2) there are numerous members (i.e., team size); were conducive to individual shirking of responsibility to the team. However, we felt there was more to the story. Although team dispersion and team size created conditions that were ripe for individuals to shirk their responsibilities, this did not explain why exactly they chose to do so. The research to this point had not articulated the psychological reasoning behind such behavior. While we acknowledged that the structural features of the team (i.e., are members dispersed or co-located; is it a small team where individual behaviors are more visible or is it a large team where such observation is more difficult?) create the conditions for social loafing, we also believed that it is the individual psychology that drives the behavior itself.

Against this backdrop, we sought to understand why individuals would engage in such delinquent behavior when team conditions are favorable. Our thought was that the psychology underlying why individuals shirk in large teams may differ from the reasons why individuals would engage in such behavior when in dispersed teams. To gain insight into this underlying psychology we leveraged Bandura’s theory of moral disengagement. Watch Dr. Srinivasan’s interview about the research.