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“… with a little help from my friends”: friendship, effort norms, and group motivation gain

Norbert L. Kerr (Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)
Dong‐Heon Seok (Department of Psychology, Daegu University, Geongbuk, South Korea)

Journal of Managerial Psychology

ISSN: 0268-3946

Article publication date: 29 March 2011




The purpose of this paper is to report on new research that explores the effect of co‐worker friendship and performance norms on the Köhler motivation gain effect.


Females worked at a motor persistence task with either a more capable coactor or with a more capable team‐mate (where the group's task had conjunctive task demands; i.e. the performance of the weaker team‐mate defined the group's score). The co‐workers (coactors or team‐mates) were either friends or strangers. Participants were also led to believe that their co‐workers and peers endorsed social norms prescribing either high or low level of effort at the task.


Compared to comparable individual control workers, the inferior‐ability coactors showed a significant motivation gain (attributable to social‐comparison processes); this gain was not moderated by either friendship or performance norms. Inferior‐ability members of the collaborative teams worked significantly harder than the coactors (attributable to the indispensability of their efforts under these work conditions), but only when their partners were friends or the performance norms prescribed high effort.

Research limitations/implications

The research focuses on short‐term laboratory groups of females working together for a very brief period. The applicability of the findings to more typical work teams will require further research.

Practical implications

The research suggests that the task motivation of particular team members (namely, those with the least ability) can be increased by strengthening social ties between team‐mates and promoting high effort social norms.


The research adds to a growing literature that identifies when and why members of work groups will work harder than comparable individual workers.



Kerr, N.L. and Seok, D. (2011), "“… with a little help from my friends”: friendship, effort norms, and group motivation gain", Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 26 No. 3, pp. 205-218.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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