A Neurocognitive Study of Attentional Processes in Social Facilitation

  • Felix Carter

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Social facilitation concerns the behavioural effect of ‘mere’ social presence, or how the presence of one individual affects the behaviour of another when they do not otherwise interact. Despite a long history of formal research, the mechanisms by which this fundamental form of social influence occur is unclear, although explanations have typically focused on mediators including arousal, attention and motivation. These phenomena are not particularly well suited to behavioural analyses which nonetheless comprise the vast majority of research in this field.

The research reported here therefore adopted electroencephalography to examine the neurophysiological effects of social presence and use neural correlates of cognitive processes to provide insight into the mechanisms of social facilitation. The first study focused on the P300 component of the event-related potential, to test the viability of two prominent explanatory mechanisms of social facilitation, namely motivation and attention, as theories which focus respectively on each of these imply divergent effects of social presence on the P300. Results indicated social presence was associated with a reduction in the P300 response, consistent with attention-based theories of social facilitation.

The follow up study therefore examined the effects of social presence on several aspects of attentional processing. Results indicated two general, non-task specific interactive effects of social presence and task learnedness on cue utilisation, whereby for unfamiliar tasks, social presence was associated with poorer information accumulation and impaired utilisation of informative cues.

Given the generality of these effects, the third study focused on the impact of implied social presence on cognitive control. Data-driven analyses of EEG data indicated an attentional modulation effect whereby implied social presence appeared to enhance attentional processing for ‘target’ information only.

Results from all studies are consistent with a modulation of attentional set associated with social presence (cf. cue utilisation theory). Findings are discussed in terms of the attentional- and motivational- effects of various forms of social presence, with particular focus on how and why social presence leads to attentional modulation effects as reported here and elsewhere.
Date of Award1 Nov 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorNeal Hinvest (Supervisor), George Stothart (Supervisor) & Jonathan Dawes (Supervisor)


  • Social facilitation

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