Ringelmann Effect

Ringelmann Effect In A Nutshell

The Ringelmann effect describes the tendency for individuals within a group to become less productive as the group size increases.

DefinitionThe Ringelmann Effect, named after French engineer Max Ringelmann, refers to the phenomenon where individuals in a group exhibit reduced effort or productivity compared to when they work independently. It highlights a decrease in individual performance within a group context.
Key Concepts1. Social Loafing: Social loafing is the core concept of the Ringelmann Effect, describing the tendency of individuals to “loaf” or contribute less effort when they believe their individual efforts are less noticeable or critical in a group setting.
2. Decreasing Marginal Contribution: As the size of a group increases, individuals tend to perceive that their contribution is less important, leading to a decline in their motivation and effort.
3. Coordination Loss: Group tasks often require coordination among members. When coordination becomes challenging, it can lead to inefficiencies and decreased productivity.
4. Free-Riding: Some individuals may “free-ride” on the efforts of others within the group, assuming that their minimal contribution won’t significantly affect the group’s outcome.
Causes1. Diffusion of Responsibility: In larger groups, individuals may feel less responsible for the group’s success or failure, assuming others will compensate for their lack of effort.
2. Evaluation Apprehension: Fear of evaluation by peers can lead individuals to withhold effort to avoid scrutiny or judgment.
3. Lack of Identifiability: When individual contributions are not easily distinguishable in a group, people may feel less accountable for their efforts.
4. Task Difficulty: If tasks are perceived as too challenging or complex, individuals may reduce their effort as a coping mechanism.
Examples1. Group Projects: In educational settings, students working on group projects may not contribute equally. Some may rely on the work of a few diligent members.
2. Workplace Teams: Within teams or departments in organizations, employees may vary in their level of engagement and effort, especially if they perceive their work as less significant.
3. Sports Teams: Athletes in team sports may exhibit reduced effort when they believe their individual performance is less critical to the team’s success.
4. Volunteer Activities: In volunteer groups, some participants may contribute less, assuming others will fill the gaps.
Consequences1. Decreased Productivity: The Ringelmann Effect can lead to reduced overall productivity and poorer outcomes for group tasks.
2. Frustration and Discontent: High-performing group members may become frustrated with low contributors, leading to interpersonal conflicts.
3. Lower Motivation: If individuals consistently experience social loafing, their motivation to participate in group activities may diminish.
4. Weaker Group Cohesion: Reduced effort and productivity can weaken the sense of group cohesion and camaraderie.
Mitigation Strategies1. Clearly Defined Roles: Assign specific roles and responsibilities to each group member to clarify expectations.
2. Individual Accountability: Ensure that individual contributions are visible and measurable.
3. Monitoring and Feedback: Regularly assess and provide feedback on individual and group performance.
4. Smaller Groups: When possible, consider smaller group sizes to reduce the likelihood of social loafing.
ConclusionThe Ringelmann Effect underscores the importance of understanding group dynamics and motivation in various contexts. By addressing the causes and consequences of social loafing, organizations, educators, and team leaders can take steps to mitigate its impact and promote higher individual and group performance.

Understanding the Ringelmann effect

The Ringelmann effect, also known as social loafing, was first identified by French agricultural engineer Max Ringelmann. 

To determine how agricultural workers could maximize their productivity, Ringelmann conducted a series of now landmark experiments.

In one experiment, he measured the pulling power of a group of individuals with a pressure gauge mounted to a rope. 

Ringelmann discovered that as more people were added to pull the rope, the more each individual would perform below their potential.

If two people could pull 200 units independently, they could only pull 186 units together. Worse still, teams of eight with a combined pulling power of 800 units could only manage a miserly 392 units. 

In explaining his results, Ringelmann noted two contributing factors:

Motivation decreased when more people shared responsibility for a task

He explained in his research that this was due to each man “trusting his neighbour to furnish the desired effort.

Inefficiencies increased due to a lack of task and effort coordinating among individuals

This is commonly seen in sports where a coordinated champion team performs better than an uncoordinated team of champions.

Further causes of the Ringelmann effect

Many have researched the causes of the Ringelmann effect in more detail since it was first described in the early part of the 20th century.

Two other causes are explained below.

Co-worker performance expectations

Research in the 1980s and 1990s found expectations of co-worker performance can also explain the Ringelmann effect.

Social loafing was found to be common in groups consisting of high achievers since individuals saw an opportunity to become lazy and let others do the work.

When the group was comprised of low-achieving individuals, however, the reverse was found to be true.

The phenomenon where an individual increases their output to compensate for the lower output of others is known as the social compensation hypothesis.

Evaluation potential

The Ringelmann effect is also caused by evaluation potential, or a lack thereof.

Essentially, the reduction in output for collective tasks occurs because people can avoid being evaluated in isolation as part of a group.

When allowed to hide in the crowd, as it were, people are prone to reducing their effort.

How can the Ringelmann effect be avoided?

At Amazon, Jeff Bezos’s “Large Pizza Rule” says that no team should be so large that it cannot be fed by a large pizza.

With that said, there are also some more formal ways the Ringelmann effect can be avoided:

Social capital

While easier said than done, businesses can increase team collaboration by creating a workplace culture where trust, shared values, and mutual understanding are prioritized.

Recruiting employees who interact well with others is also important.

Task designation

When employee names are designated to specific project tasks, individual and thus team performance improves.

This strategy takes advantage of evaluation apprehension, a phenomenon where people are preoccupied with how others perceive them and act to avoid judgement. 

Recognize contributions

Positive reinforcement can also be an effective strategy in combating the Ringelmann effect.

Individuals should be acknowledged or even celebrated for their contributions, preferably in a public context.

Case studies

  • Software Development Teams: In a large team working on software development, some developers might contribute less code or test fewer cases, thinking their peers will cover essential aspects. Smaller, more agile teams might see each developer taking more responsibility.
  • Marketing Campaign Brainstorms: During a brainstorming session for a new marketing campaign, if the team is too large, some members might withhold their creative ideas, thinking that others will have sufficient input. On the other hand, smaller brainstorming groups might generate more active participation from each member.
  • Sales Teams: In a large sales team with a collective target, some salespeople might not pursue leads as aggressively, thinking their colleagues will make up for it. In contrast, individual targets or smaller teams can drive each salesperson to give their best.
  • Corporate Strategy Meetings: In strategy planning meetings with many attendees, some executives might stay silent, assuming that their insights or objections might not matter amidst the many voices. Smaller, focused strategy groups might elicit more comprehensive input from each participant.
  • Customer Support Teams: In large customer service departments, some representatives might not be as diligent in resolving issues, thinking other team members will handle challenging cases. This can lead to decreased customer satisfaction.
  • Product Design Workshops: In workshops intended to design or improve a product, some designers might hold back on giving critical feedback or innovative ideas if the group is too large, assuming the primary voices will dominate.
  • Quality Control Teams: In large quality control teams for manufacturing, some inspectors might occasionally skip steps, assuming errors will be caught by others in the team. This can lead to inconsistent product quality.
  • Research and Development (R&D): In a vast R&D department, some researchers might delay their projects or not pursue innovative avenues, thinking their contribution might be less noticeable among the many projects. Smaller R&D teams often see each researcher being more proactive and accountable.
  • Financial Audit Teams: In large audit teams, some auditors might not scrutinize every transaction detail, relying on the sheer number of auditors to catch discrepancies. This could lead to oversight in financial reports.
  • Employee Training Programs: In large training sessions, some attendees might not participate actively in discussions or exercises, thinking their participation might not be missed. Smaller, more intimate training groups can encourage more active involvement from each participant.
  • Sports: In basketball, a team of five-star players may not necessarily play to their full potential individually when compared to a situation where they are the only star on the team. They might assume others will pick up the slack, leading to suboptimal team performance.
  • Group Projects at School: Students in a group project might experience the Ringelmann effect when one or two members decide to contribute less, assuming others will cover for them. A group of four might end up with the workload effectively carried by just two or three members.
  • Office Meetings: In large team meetings, you might notice fewer individuals participating in the discussion. This can be attributed to the Ringelmann effect, where people feel their contribution might not be as significant or noticeable in a larger setting.
  • Community Volunteering: In community clean-up efforts, if a large group gathers, some individuals might reduce their cleaning efforts, thinking there are enough people to handle the task. But if only a few volunteers show up, each one might work harder and be more thorough.
  • Choir Performance: If a choir group is too large, some members might not sing as loudly or clearly, assuming their voice won’t be distinctly heard among the many. However, in a smaller group or a solo performance, each member gives their best.
  • Factory Assembly Lines: In a large assembly line with many workers, some might reduce their pace or effort assuming others will cover for any slack. This can reduce the overall efficiency of the production process.
  • Research Teams: In a large research group, some scientists might contribute less, thinking their input might not be as crucial. But in smaller research teams, each scientist often takes more responsibility, leading to more significant contributions.
  • Fitness Classes: In a large Zumba or aerobics class, some participants might not give their full effort, thinking the instructor won’t notice. But in smaller classes, each participant might be more motivated to follow the moves accurately.
  • Online Collaborative Platforms: On platforms like Wikipedia, if too many contributors are editing a page, some might reduce their contributions, assuming others will correct or improve the content.
  • Emergency Situations: In scenarios where a large crowd witnesses an accident, the Ringelmann effect can be seen when many assume someone else will call for help or provide first aid. This is often related to the “bystander effect.”

Key takeaways

  • The Ringelmann effect describes the tendency for individuals within a group to become less productive as the group size increases.
  • The Ringelmann effect is primarily driven by two factors. The first is a decrease in motivation that occurs when more people share responsibility for a task. The second is inefficiencies that result due to a lack of task coordination.
  • The Ringelmann effect can be mitigated by creating a company culture where teamwork is prioritized, designating specific tasks to individuals, and celebrating their contributions to the group.

Key highlights of the Ringelmann Effect

  • Definition of the Ringelmann Effect: The Ringelmann Effect, also known as social loafing, refers to the tendency for individuals within a group to become less productive as the group size increases.
  • Origins and Discoverer: The effect was first identified by French agricultural engineer Max Ringelmann, who conducted experiments on agricultural workers and found that their pulling power decreased as more individuals were added to the task.
  • Contributing Factors: Two primary factors contribute to the Ringelmann Effect: decreased motivation when more people share responsibility for a task and inefficiencies due to a lack of task coordination among group members.
  • Co-worker Performance Expectations: Research has shown that expectations of co-worker performance can influence the Ringelmann Effect. High achievers may engage in social loafing, while low-achievers may compensate for the lower output of others.
  • Evaluation Potential: The Ringelmann Effect can also be caused by evaluation potential, where individuals reduce their effort when they can avoid being evaluated in isolation as part of a group.
  • Avoiding the Ringelmann Effect: Strategies to mitigate the Ringelmann Effect include fostering social capital and teamwork through a positive workplace culture, designating specific tasks to individuals, and recognizing and celebrating individual contributions in a public context.
  • Jeff Bezos’s “Large Pizza Rule”: At Amazon, Jeff Bezos’s “Large Pizza Rule” suggests that no team should be so large that it cannot be fed by a large pizza, highlighting the importance of keeping teams manageable and efficient.
  • Task Designation and Evaluation Apprehension: Designating individual names to specific project tasks can improve individual and team performance by leveraging evaluation apprehension, where people act to avoid judgment from others.
  • Recognizing Contributions: Positive reinforcement, such as acknowledging and celebrating individual contributions, can be effective in countering the Ringelmann Effect and promoting higher individual engagement within the group.

Connected Thinking Frameworks

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

Convergent thinking occurs when the solution to a problem can be found by applying established rules and logical reasoning. Whereas divergent thinking is an unstructured problem-solving method where participants are encouraged to develop many innovative ideas or solutions to a given problem. Where convergent thinking might work for larger, mature organizations where divergent thinking is more suited for startups and innovative companies.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking involves analyzing observations, facts, evidence, and arguments to form a judgment about what someone reads, hears, says, or writes.


The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.

Second-Order Thinking

Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.

Bounded Rationality

Bounded rationality is a concept attributed to Herbert Simon, an economist and political scientist interested in decision-making and how we make decisions in the real world. In fact, he believed that rather than optimizing (which was the mainstream view in the past decades) humans follow what he called satisficing.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a task overestimate their ability to perform that task well. Consumers or businesses that do not possess the requisite knowledge make bad decisions. What’s more, knowledge gaps prevent the person or business from seeing their mistakes.

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor states that one should not increase (beyond reason) the number of entities required to explain anything. All things being equal, the simplest solution is often the best one. The principle is attributed to 14th-century English theologian William of Ockham.

Lindy Effect

The Lindy Effect is a theory about the ageing of non-perishable things, like technology or ideas. Popularized by author Nicholas Nassim Taleb, the Lindy Effect states that non-perishable things like technology age – linearly – in reverse. Therefore, the older an idea or a technology, the same will be its life expectancy.


Antifragility was first coined as a term by author, and options trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Antifragility is a characteristic of systems that thrive as a result of stressors, volatility, and randomness. Therefore, Antifragile is the opposite of fragile. Where a fragile thing breaks up to volatility; a robust thing resists volatility. An antifragile thing gets stronger from volatility (provided the level of stressors and randomness doesn’t pass a certain threshold).

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a holistic means of investigating the factors and interactions that could contribute to a potential outcome. It is about thinking non-linearly, and understanding the second-order consequences of actions and input into the system.

Vertical Thinking

Vertical thinking, on the other hand, is a problem-solving approach that favors a selective, analytical, structured, and sequential mindset. The focus of vertical thinking is to arrive at a reasoned, defined solution.

Maslow’s Hammer

Maslow’s Hammer, otherwise known as the law of the instrument or the Einstellung effect, is a cognitive bias causing an over-reliance on a familiar tool. This can be expressed as the tendency to overuse a known tool (perhaps a hammer) to solve issues that might require a different tool. This problem is persistent in the business world where perhaps known tools or frameworks might be used in the wrong context (like business plans used as planning tools instead of only investors’ pitches).

Peter Principle

The Peter Principle was first described by Canadian sociologist Lawrence J. Peter in his 1969 book The Peter Principle. The Peter Principle states that people are continually promoted within an organization until they reach their level of incompetence.

Straw Man Fallacy

The straw man fallacy describes an argument that misrepresents an opponent’s stance to make rebuttal more convenient. The straw man fallacy is a type of informal logical fallacy, defined as a flaw in the structure of an argument that renders it invalid.

Streisand Effect

The Streisand Effect is a paradoxical phenomenon where the act of suppressing information to reduce visibility causes it to become more visible. In 2003, Streisand attempted to suppress aerial photographs of her Californian home by suing photographer Kenneth Adelman for an invasion of privacy. Adelman, who Streisand assumed was paparazzi, was instead taking photographs to document and study coastal erosion. In her quest for more privacy, Streisand’s efforts had the opposite effect.


As highlighted by German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer in the paper “Heuristic Decision Making,” the term heuristic is of Greek origin, meaning “serving to find out or discover.” More precisely, a heuristic is a fast and accurate way to make decisions in the real world, which is driven by uncertainty.

Recognition Heuristic

The recognition heuristic is a psychological model of judgment and decision making. It is part of a suite of simple and economical heuristics proposed by psychologists Daniel Goldstein and Gerd Gigerenzer. The recognition heuristic argues that inferences are made about an object based on whether it is recognized or not.

Representativeness Heuristic

The representativeness heuristic was first described by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The representativeness heuristic judges the probability of an event according to the degree to which that event resembles a broader class. When queried, most will choose the first option because the description of John matches the stereotype we may hold for an archaeologist.

Take-The-Best Heuristic

The take-the-best heuristic is a decision-making shortcut that helps an individual choose between several alternatives. The take-the-best (TTB) heuristic decides between two or more alternatives based on a single good attribute, otherwise known as a cue. In the process, less desirable attributes are ignored.

Bundling Bias

The bundling bias is a cognitive bias in e-commerce where a consumer tends not to use all of the products bought as a group, or bundle. Bundling occurs when individual products or services are sold together as a bundle. Common examples are tickets and experiences. The bundling bias dictates that consumers are less likely to use each item in the bundle. This means that the value of the bundle and indeed the value of each item in the bundle is decreased.

Barnum Effect

The Barnum Effect is a cognitive bias where individuals believe that generic information – which applies to most people – is specifically tailored for themselves.

First-Principles Thinking

First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.

Ladder Of Inference

The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.

Goodhart’s Law

Goodhart’s Law is named after British monetary policy theorist and economist Charles Goodhart. Speaking at a conference in Sydney in 1975, Goodhart said that “any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.” Goodhart’s Law states that when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

Six Thinking Hats Model

The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.

Mandela Effect

The Mandela effect is a phenomenon where a large group of people remembers an event differently from how it occurred. The Mandela effect was first described in relation to Fiona Broome, who believed that former South African President Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. While Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died 23 years later, Broome remembered news coverage of his death in prison and even a speech from his widow. Of course, neither event occurred in reality. But Broome was later to discover that she was not the only one with the same recollection of events.

Crowding-Out Effect

The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect tells us that the more a belief or idea has been adopted by more people within a group, the more the individual adoption of that idea might increase within the same group. This is the psychological effect that leads to herd mentality. What in marketing can be associated with social proof.

Moore’s Law

Moore’s law states that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles approximately every two years. This observation was made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965 and it become a guiding principle for the semiconductor industry and has had far-reaching implications for technology as a whole.

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation as a term was first described by Clayton M. Christensen, an American academic and business consultant whom The Economist called “the most influential management thinker of his time.” Disruptive innovation describes the process by which a product or service takes hold at the bottom of a market and eventually displaces established competitors, products, firms, or alliances.

Value Migration

Value migration was first described by author Adrian Slywotzky in his 1996 book Value Migration – How to Think Several Moves Ahead of the Competition. Value migration is the transferal of value-creating forces from outdated business models to something better able to satisfy consumer demands.

Bye-Now Effect

The bye-now effect describes the tendency for consumers to think of the word “buy” when they read the word “bye”. In a study that tracked diners at a name-your-own-price restaurant, each diner was asked to read one of two phrases before ordering their meal. The first phrase, “so long”, resulted in diners paying an average of $32 per meal. But when diners recited the phrase “bye bye” before ordering, the average price per meal rose to $45.


Groupthink occurs when well-intentioned individuals make non-optimal or irrational decisions based on a belief that dissent is impossible or on a motivation to conform. Groupthink occurs when members of a group reach a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the alternatives and their consequences.


A stereotype is a fixed and over-generalized belief about a particular group or class of people. These beliefs are based on the false assumption that certain characteristics are common to every individual residing in that group. Many stereotypes have a long and sometimes controversial history and are a direct consequence of various political, social, or economic events. Stereotyping is the process of making assumptions about a person or group of people based on various attributes, including gender, race, religion, or physical traits.

Murphy’s Law

Murphy’s Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Murphy’s Law was named after aerospace engineer Edward A. Murphy. During his time working at Edwards Air Force Base in 1949, Murphy cursed a technician who had improperly wired an electrical component and said, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.”

Law of Unintended Consequences

The law of unintended consequences was first mentioned by British philosopher John Locke when writing to parliament about the unintended effects of interest rate rises. However, it was popularized in 1936 by American sociologist Robert K. Merton who looked at unexpected, unanticipated, and unintended consequences and their impact on society.

Fundamental Attribution Error

Fundamental attribution error is a bias people display when judging the behavior of others. The tendency is to over-emphasize personal characteristics and under-emphasize environmental and situational factors.

Outcome Bias

Outcome bias describes a tendency to evaluate a decision based on its outcome and not on the process by which the decision was reached. In other words, the quality of a decision is only determined once the outcome is known. Outcome bias occurs when a decision is based on the outcome of previous events without regard for how those events developed.

Hindsight Bias

Hindsight bias is the tendency for people to perceive past events as more predictable than they actually were. The result of a presidential election, for example, seems more obvious when the winner is announced. The same can also be said for the avid sports fan who predicted the correct outcome of a match regardless of whether their team won or lost. Hindsight bias, therefore, is the tendency for an individual to convince themselves that they accurately predicted an event before it happened.

Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger EffectLindy EffectCrowding Out EffectBandwagon Effect.

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