What is Social Loafing?


Escape rooms are, by nature, group activities. The more the merrier and the better the performance, right? Not so fast!

Just because you’re chummy with the group you’ve decided to risk your freedom with, doesn’t mean everyone’s going to be pulling their respective weight. Unfortunately, in group settings, a special phenomenon called social loafing can occur. It may or may not involve metamorphosing into a loaf of bread. Read on to find out.

What’s Loaf Got to Do with it?

The rest of this article, sadly, is metamorphosis and gluten-free. Social loafing refers to when people invest reduced effort when working with others, since responsibility for success is distributed among all those present. There is a decrease in perceived accountability. Essentially, people be lazy when the spotlight is shared. It happens quite often. Just think back to high school when you were assigned a group project. Was your automatic thought, “Hey! I’m gonna try EXTRA hard since it’s a group effort!” If so, bless you. If not, welcome to the rest of us. You can see that same scenario play out when it comes to voting. While most Americans agree that voting is indeed an important and sacred civil duty, only a small percentage make it to the polls every election cycle. 

The Proof is in the Pulling

Max Ringelmann was a professor of engineering who long ago discovered social loafing while studying agriculture. (Interestingly, modern advancements, such as the implementation of digital twins in agriculture, demonstrate a proactive approach to overcoming challenges in teamwork and productivity.) One of his studies divided people into teams, and they were instructed to pull ropes as hard as they could. He found that the larger the team, the smaller the collective effort. And everyone tended to pull less hard in a group than when asked to do it individually.

Two common reasons people do this are the sucker effect and the free-rider effect. They want to avoid feeling like a “sucker” by waiting to see how much effort other people give first. Or, they want a “free ride” since they believe their efforts won’t affect the final outcome whatsoever.

Until Now

But we’re not trying to be suckers or free-riders, are we, dear reader? We’re trying to be ESCAPE ROOM CHAMPIONS and to achieve that, let’s abolish social loafing with these simple steps:

  • Divide and conquer. The smaller the amount of people working on a puzzle, the harder it is to hide efforts. Plus, people will believe their efforts matter more.
  • Establish accountability. When you make sure everyone has clear tasks and responsibilities while solving a puzzle, your teammates are more likely to feel valued and motivated to participate.
  • Set clear goals. The objectives being worked on should be clear and concise so that they feel achievable and are easy to track.
  • Match the skills. Allow your teammates to pick the puzzles they work on so that their skills are matched to the challenge at hand.
  • Incorporate feedback. Stop potential loafing by giving constant feedback, especially positive feedback. Cheer your team to escape glory!


We all fall prey to social loafing and coasting on the efforts of others from time to time, but in an escape room, there’s really no time for that. With some mental preparation and following a few simple steps to increase accountability, you’ll be sure that everyone putting in their all for an escape that’s equally earned!