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Drive Theory was first suggested by Robert Zajonc in 1965 as an explanation of the audience effect. The audience effect notes that in some cases the presence of a passive audience will facilitate the better performance of a task; while in other cases the presence of an audience will inhibit the performance of a task.
Drive Theory states that due to the unpredictable nature of people, a person performing a task rarely knows for certain what others are going to do in response. Therefore, there is a clear advantage to the species for an individual's presence to cause us to be in a state of alert arousal. Increased arousal (stress) can therefore be seen as an instinctive reaction to social presence.
This arousal creates a "drive" that causes us enact the behaviours that form our dominant response for that particular situation. Our dominate response is the most likely response given our skills at use.
If the dominant response is "correct" (that is to say, if the task we are to perform is subjectively perceived as being easy), then the social pressure produces an improved performance. However, if the dominant response is "incorrect" (the task is difficult), then social presence produces an impaired performance.
Zajonc, R.B. (1965). Social Facilitation. Science, 149, 269-74.
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