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A Comparison of Zajonc’s Drive Theory and Cottrell’s Evaluation-Apprehension Theory

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Zajonc (1965) describes Drive Theory as the increase in levels of arousal in the presence of others which enhances the frequency of dominant behaviours. The aim of this experiment was to challenge Zajonc’s theory. This study encompassed ten University students and ten teachers and examined the effect of an Attentive Audience condition compared to Mere Presence condition on the performance of a complex word task. No significant difference was found between both conditions in the mean number of words obtained. This study supports Zajonc’s (1965) Drive Theory as the most reliable indicator in determining individual’s behaviour in the presence of others.

A major area of social psychology is the study of an individual’s behaviour in the presence of others. This is defined as Allport’s Theory of Social Facilitation (Vaughan, 2002). The effect of others on an individual’s behaviour is addressed by the opposing theories of Zajonc’s (1965) Drive Theory that defines Mere Presence and Cottrell’s (1972) Evaluation Apprehension Model that characterizes Attentive Audience.

Allport’s theory was further delineated by the theorist Zajonc in his Drive Theory. Plantania and Morgan (2001, p.190) explain Drive Theory as “the presence of others that produces increments in levels of arousal which in turn enhances the frequency of dominant responses (i.e., responses with the greatest habit strength).” Zajonc places emphasis on an innate stimulation effect in the presence of a non-specific, non-directional other (Markus, 1978). Mere Presence is the presence of a person in the same area as another person performing a task. The Mere Presence individual is either performing the same task but not interacting, or coexists with the other person without interest or interaction (Vaughan, 2002).

A number of researchers have contributed to the concept of Mere Presence. Markus (1978) analysed and criticized Mere Presence methodology. She suggests employing a clearer definition of Mere Presence standards. For example when employing simple and complex tasks, it is important to prevent eliciting spontaneous evaluation in the participant and to ensure that subjects are phenomenologically (appear to be) alone. Markus (1978) and Schmitt et. al. (1986) based research on participants completing well learned (simple) and unfamiliar (complex) tasks that involved the exchange of garments in the presence of experimental confederates. Both researchers set up the condition in the same manner, with the exception that Schmitt’s confederate was blindfolded and wearing headphones. Both found support for the Mere Presence hypothesis.

Schmitt et. al. clearly defined Mere Presence by applying measures that assured theoretical consistency – the confederate was blindfolded and wearing headphones, and observation occurred through a one-way mirror. Schmitt et. al. used these research methodologies to isolate sources of arousal produced by the Mere Presence of another from those produced by evaluation. Markus’s study showed that the Mere Presence condition produced a more consistent effect compared to the Attentive Presence condition. She suggests that some Attentive Presence conditions are influenced by other social stimuli for example, body image (Markus, 1978, p. 394). This was also reinforced by Schmitt et. al.

Opposing the concept of Mere Presence is Cottrell’s Evaluation Apprehension Model. Cottrell’s (1968) model questioned the validity of Mere Presence as a source of arousal. In Cottrell’s Attentive Condition involved two associates being present, watching individuals perform a verbal habits (difficult) task. From this study Cottrell (1968) proposed that the particular arousal produced by an audience is based on what we believe others think of us. The Evaluation Apprehension Model suggests that individuals have ingrained reward and punishment responses to social presence and that these responses are what produce arousal. Sanna (1992) supports Contrell’s Evaluation Apprehension Model.

He defined three key sources of evaluation: experimenter evaluation, co-worker evaluation and self-evaluation. Sanna (1992), and Buckingham and Alicke (2002), highlight the importance of Attentive Presence on producing an evaluation response. They go as far as to suggest that self-evaluation is greater with the Attentive Presence of others. This was also supported by Seidel, Stasser and Collier’s (1998) study of Action Identification theory and evaluation effects on individuals’ performance. Their analysis of difficult coding tasks performed under varying degrees of scrutiny resulted in performance decrease in the high-evaluation condition.

The present study attempts to investigate the effects of an attentive audience on the performance of a complex word task. The hypothesis is that those in the Attentive Audience condition will perform worse on a difficult task than those in the Mere Presence condition. Dominant responses would be less effective in the Attentive Audience condition.



A convenience sample was obtained where participants consisted of twenty individuals (10 men and 10 women, mean age = 26years). All volunteered to participate in this study. Ten of the participants were university students. Five of these were of Asian decent where English was not their native language. Ten participants selected were teachers. All participants were debriefed at the end of the experiment.


Each participant received a single sheet of A4 paper and black pen. It contained a brief description of the experiment’s procedure and a list of jumbled up words in 16-point Arial font (ref. Appendix). Space and a line were allocated beside each word where the participants could write their answers. A stopwatch was also used to record the time allocated for each participant. A coin was used to randomly select either mere presence or attentive audience conditions.

Design and Procedure

Individual performance on difficult tasks was tested via two stages, with two experimenters. In first stage, data was collected from 10 university students, and the second stage data was collected at a school.

The Audience and Mere Presence Condition.

Each participant was tested individually in one of two conditions: Mere Presence condition and Attentive Audience condition. Allocation of conditions was executed randomly by the toss of a coin (heads for Mere Presence and Tails for Attentive Audience). Participants were informed that the activity would take two minutes, that they should complete initial questions on age, language and sex, but not begin the task. The experimenter then communicated either the Mere Presence condition or the Attentive Audience condition and explained the experimenter’s position of seating and observation that represented each condition.

For the Mere Presence condition the experimenter was seated a few meters away but still in the same room. For the Attentive Audience condition, the experimenter stood over the participant and carefully watched performance of the task. Individuals were asked to leave all questions to the end of the experiment. The standard audience condition was adapted from Zajonc (1965) where no communication between the experimenter and the participant during the task was to occur. Each participant was informed that their task was to complete word puzzles provided on the A4 sheet.


Each participant’s score was calculated via the number of completed words (i.e. words that made sense, with meaning), these were then tallied to give each participant a score out of ten.


Participants were given a score by the number of times a word was recorded correct. The mean scores and standard deviations for the testing conditions of Attentive Audience and Mere Presence are presented below in Table 1.

Table 1

Mean and Standard Deviations of Mere Presence and Attentive Audience Conditions


Condition Mean Deviation Sample size

Mere Presence 2.5 1.37 10

Attentive Audience 4.3 5.06 10

The participants in the Mere Presence condition (mean = 2.5) scored a lower number of correct answers than the Attentive Audience condition (mean = 4.3). An independent group t test was performed comparing the performance of a complex task in the conditions of MP and AA. Results indicated that no significant differences exist amongst the treatment group’s t (18) = -2.85 p> .05.


The aim of this study was to fundamentally challenge Zajonc’s theory of Mere Presence. We were investigating whether evaluation effects produced by the Attentive Audience condition will adversely affect performance of a difficult task compared to those in the Mere Presence condition. Results from this study do not support our original hypothesis, that those in an Attentive Audience condition will perform worse on a difficult task than those in the Mere Presence condition. Results indicated individuals actually scored higher within the Attentive Audience condition compared to the Mere Presence condition rather than the predicted lower scores. Markus (1978) and Schmitt et. al. (1986), and Plantania and Morgan (2001) suggest reasons for these results. These researchers attempted to remove evaluation effects in order to isolate the Mere Presence effect.

Plantania and Morgan (2001) used a visual task where a coactor was indicative of the Attentive Audience condition. This study differentiated between the scales of the effects between the two conditions by using a task, involving personal choices, that was isolated from evaluation judgements. It may have experienced difficulties in removing evaluation effects. The Mere Presence condition was represented by the confederate sitting a distance away, reading. Perhaps the confederate needed to follow similar procedures to those of Markus (1978) and Schmitt et. al. (1986), wearing headphones and / or a blindfold.

Conceivably the differences in this study’s results could be accounted for by the composition of the population samples. Firstly, parts of the population tested were special need teachers. These individuals acquire the ability to handle evaluation and performance pressures as part of their job. They experience the physical presence of others where their job is to present a source of information under the conditions of imitation, conformity and aggression. Guerin, and Innes (1982), Guerin (1983, 2001) and Sanna (1992) report similar sample problems.

Participants in this study indicated concerns about the time allocation. This study, as like others, may have suffered from the difficulty of removing evaluation from the task, Geen and Gange (1977). As formulated by Markus (1978), and reinforced by Schmitt et. al. (1986), often individuals are concerned with how well they have scored on the task and request a comparative ranking to others. It is also important to note the influence of other social stimuli which often are concealed by other complex social factors, for example body image. In this study the individual’s level of attention, disabilities, culture and language as is evident in our sample, as well as Collier, Seidel and Stasser (1998) and Guerin (2001).

The present study attempted to investigate the effects of the Attentive Audience on the performance of a complex word task via the analysis of the two opposing theoretical constructs, Zajonc’s (1965) Drive Theory and Cottrell’s (1972) Evaluation Apprehension Model. After defining these theories, and applying current research to our investigation, it was concluded that Zajonc’s (1965) Drive Theory still seems to be the most reliable in determining individual’s behaviour in the presence of others.


Buckingham, J.T. and Alicke, M. D. (2002). The Influence of Individual Versus Aggregate Social Comparison and the Presence of Others on Self-Evaluations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8, (5), 1117-1130.

Cottrell, Nickolas B., et al. (1968). Social facilitation of dominant responses by the presence of an audience and the mere presence of others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9 (3), 245-250.

Geen, R.G., and Gange, J.J. (1977). Drive theory of social facilitation: twelve years of theory and research. Psychological Bulletin, 6, 1267-1288.

Guerin, B. (1983). Social facilitation and social monitoring: A test of three models. British Journal of Social Psychology, 22(3), 203-214.

Guerin, B. (2001). The effects of mere presence on a motor task. The Journal of Social Psychology, 126(3), 399-401.

Guerin, B., and Innes, J.M. (1982). Social facilitation and social monitoring: A new look at Zajonc’s mere presence hypothesis. British Journal of Social Psychology, 21(1), 7-18.

Markus, Hazel. (1978). The effect of mere presence on social facilitation: an unobtrusive test. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 14 (-), 389-397.

Plantania, J. and Morgan, G.P. (2001). Social facilitation as a function of the mere presence of others. Journal of Social Psychology, 14(3), 190-197.

Sanna, L. J. (1992). Self-Efficacy Theory: Implications for Social Facilitation and Social Loafing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67(5), 774-786.

Schmitt, Bernd H. et, al. (1986). Mere presence and social facilitation: one more time Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 22 (-), 242-248.

Seidel, S.D.and Stasser, G.L. and Collier’s, S.A. (1998). Action Identification Theory as an Explanation of Social Performance. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 2, (3), 147-154.

Vaughn, G.M., and Hogg, M.A. (2002). Introduction to Social Psychology 3rd Edition. French Forest, NSW: Prentice Hall.

Zajonc, Robert B. (1965). Social facilitation. Science, 149, 269-274.

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