In this project the research team will examine the conditions that prompt people to exert more effort when working on a task as part of a group than when working alone -- a motivation gain in groups. This research will extend current knowledge in three ways. First, it will test for motivation gains when members perform different subtasks, making different contributions to the group's overall product. Theory suggests that the structural interdependence among subtasks plays an important role in promoting group motivation gains. Second, it will test whether the same overall task, with the same subtask structure, can induce motivation gains in group members who vary widely in task-relevant ability. In past research, the types of tasks found to prompt motivation gains in more-capable members have been quite different from those found to prompt motivation gains in less-capable members. Third, it will test the independent effect of a critical psychological variable presumed to underlie motivation gains: felt indispensability. Past research has not been able to fully disentangle the effect of this variable from that of upward social comparison, due mainly to limitations inherent in the tasks employed. These objectives will be accomplished in four laboratory experiments using a novel physical persistence task that is structured with two interdependent subtasks varying both in difficulty and in criticality to the group's overall success.
In terms of broader impacts, this research seeks to change in a fundamental way the dominant view of motivation in groups, from one that emphasizes the possibility (even likelihood) of motivation loss, to one that acknowledges as well the potential for genuine motivation gain. Further, by using a task with a subtask structure, and by testing for motivation gains simultaneously in both more-capable and less-capable group members, this research will better indicate how generalizable motivation gains found in the laboratory are to real-world settings, and so the likelihood that such gains can be harnessed to benefit organizational productivity and effectiveness.