Volume 3, Issue 1, 2009  
  A Test of Social Facilitation as a Predictor of Home Performance Advantage  
  David Dryden Henningsen and Mary Lynn Miller Henningsen, Northern Illinois University
Mary Braz, Michigan State University
This study tests predictions concerning social facilitation and the home performance advantage in menís college basketball. Home performance advantage reflects how audiences at sporting events may influence the players' performance such that performance at home exceeds performance on the road. Using social facilitation as an explanatory mechanism the home performance advantage is hypothesized to be greater for high ability teams than for lower ability teams on shooting tasks. In addition, social facilitation is posited to have the greatest effect on relatively simple shots and the smallest effect on more difficult shots. The results provide support for social facilitation as an explanatory mechanism but only for field goal shooting, not for free throw or three point shooting. Three competing explanations (ceiling effects, social inhibition, and referee bias) for these mixed results are proposed and considered.
The home advantage is described as the extent to which the home team wins more than half of all games played (Schwartz & Barsky, 1977). Many studies have supported the idea that the home team is significantly more likely to win than the visiting team across a variety of sports (Carron, Loughead, & Bray, 2005; Courneya & Carron, 1992; Nevill & Holder, 1999). Although researchers have been addressing the home advantage for a quarter of a century, very little is known about the actual mechanisms that could explain why there is a home advantage.

Courneya and Carron (1992) suggested a conceptual framework to assist scholars in trying to understand the home advantage (see also Carron, Loughead, & Bray, 2005). This framework presents game location factors, critical psychological states, and critical behavioral states as features that mediate the relationship between game location and performance outcomes.

One possible explanation for the home advantage respesenting the critical psychological states that has been mentioned in a variety of studies is social facilition (e.g. Greer, 1983; Madrigal & James, 1999; Schwartz & Barsky, 1977; Silva & Andrew, 1987; Varca, 1980). Although social facilitation is frequently mentioned as a possible factor that contributes to the home advantage, no study to date examines home advantage using features that specifically test social facilitation. In the present study, we will discuss how social facilitation could produce the home advantage and will propose and conduct a study to test social facilitation in the context of college basketball games.

Social facilitation represents a process in which people's performance varies depending on whether or not they are in the presence of others. Zajonc (1965) describes the effects of social facilitation by distinguishing how people perform dominant (i.e., tasks that are familiar, simple or well learned) and nondominant (i.e., tasks that are unfamiliar, complex or novel) responses in the absence or presence of others. When a person's behavior is a dominant response, the person's performance of the behavior will be facilitated by the presence of others. That is, people perform better on dominant responses when others are around then when others are not present. On non-dominant tasks, contrariwise, the presence of other individuals impairs performance creating a type of social inhibition or interference. When performing non-dominant tasks individuals perform worse when others are present than when the performer is alone. This occurs, according to Zajonc, because the presence of others creates increased arousal. This arousal is effectively channeled into performance for dominant tasks but becomes distracting or inhibiting on non-dominant tasks.

If social facilitation can be used to explain the home advantage in sports contexts, researchers must focus on how social facilitation could affect the tasks individuals and teams perform during competitions. To that end, in this study focus will be on the home performance advantage instead of the home advantage per se. A home performance advantage exists when an individual's or a team's performance on a specific task is better at home than on the road. Of course, performing the tasks inherent in athletic competition at a superior level should increase the likelihood that a team will achieve a victory in the endeavor.

For social facilitation to explain home performance advantage, an explanation of social facilitation effects must be able to distinguish why the presence of a home audience would affect teams differently than the presence of a road audience. A variety of studies have found that the home advantage and home performance advantage exist in menís college basketball (Greer, 1983; Moore & Brylinsky, 1995; Schwartz & Barsky, 1977; Silva & Andrew, 1987; Snyder & Purdy, 1985; Varca, 1980). In the present study, the performance of menís college basketball teams at home and on the road are examined in order to assess the explanatory power of social facilitation in reference to the home performance advantage.

The most parsimonious explanation for why social facilitation would be more likely to occur at home than on the road is that playing at home increases familiarity for the players and thus makes the tasks they perform more dominant. With the increased familiarity provided by the home setting, the arousal added by the crowd can be better channeled into task performance than when the setting is unfamiliar.

Bray and Widmeyer (2000) provide evidence that players report that the support they received from home fans was one of the primary features that provided them with an advantage when playing games at home. It is possible that the feelings the players report are, in fact, the arousal produced by the presence of an audience. When this arousal facilitates performance (i.e., at home) the players label such arousal positively. Conversely, when such arousal is inhibiting it would be labeled differently, creating a positive interpretation of crowd effects produced at home as opposed to on the road.

The idea that social facilitation promotes a home performance advantage is consistent with explanations that the home advantage is produced by familiarity factors associated with home games (e.g., Loughead, Carron, Bray, & Kim, 2003). Loughead et al. found that, at least for low quality teams, gaining familiarity with a new facility promoted a home advantage. Other studies exploring familiarity factors have focused on how teams with more unusual home playing conditions should display a greater home advantage (e.g., Schwartz & Barsky, 1977). We contend that the general familiarity of the surroundings, even where the relative dimensions and conditions remain unchanged at home or on the road, can make the tasks performed more dominant and thus a home performance advantage should tend to emerge.

Hypothesis 1: A home performance advantage will exist for teams' performance at home relative to on the road.

Although we contend that performing at home as opposed to on the road should promote social facilitation, additional factors need also be considered. For instance, the different tasks performed vary in difficulty in sporting activities. Consistent with social facilitation, we propose that as task difficulty increases, social facilitation will decrease. In college basketball, task difficulty varies depending on the type of shot a player is taking. A free throw is an uncontested shot taken from 15 feet from the basket. We feel shooting performance on free throws will be highest because they are uncontested. A field goal may be shot from nearer or farther from the basket than a free throw but can be contested by the defenders. A three point shot may also be contested and is, minimally, 19 feet and 9 inches from the basket.

Assuming that the home performance advantage exists for shooting tasks and is a result of social facilitation, it would be anticipated the greatest amount of facilitation would occur in free throw shooting and the lowest amount of facilitation would occur in three point shooting. Facilitation effects could be demonstrated by comparing the advantage in shooting percentages teams display at home compared to on the road. The first hypothesis tests this proposition.

Hypothesis 2: College teams will show the greatest home performance advantage in free throw shooting, followed by field goal shooting and finally three point shooting.

In addition to looking at different types of shooting tasks, task difficulty may also be examined by comparing performance by teams with different levels of ability. Michaels, Blommel, Brocato, Linkous, and Rowe (1982) examined the performance of individuals playing pool. After distinguishing skilled from unskilled players they compared the performance of both groups with and without spectators observing them. The researchers found that the performance of the better players improved with an audience while the performance of poorer players was inhibited. In the present study, it is argued that teams that are more highly skilled in particular shooting tasks should display the greatest home performance advantage. The following hypotheses examine these predictions.

Hypothesis 3: For three point shooting, high ability teams will display a greater home performance advantage than low ability teams.

Hypothesis 4: For field goal shooting, high ability teams will display a greater home performance advantage than low ability teams.

Hypothesis 5: For free throw shooting, high ability teams will display a greater home performance advantage than low ability teams.


Participants. Data was gathered for 78 NCAA division I menís teams from the 2000-2001 college basketball season. A trained research assistant recorded all home and away game shooting statistics using www.espn.com, which provides game summaries for division I college basketball games. Teams were randomly selected from all division I conferences, including a grouping of the division I independents. A list of the teams analyzed are included in the appendix.

Measures. Statistics were gathered for each game teams played over the course of the season in which a home team could be clearly designated. Home and away totals for shots attempted and shots made were recorded for free throws, field goals, and three point shots. Percentages for three point shooting, field goals, and free throws at home and on the road were calculated by dividing the number of shots made by the number of shots attempted. Overall shooting percentages for three point shooting (M = .35, SD = .03), field goals (M = .44, SD = .02), and free throws (M = .69, SD = .04) were calculated for each team as a measure of task ability.


Task difficulty

A 2 (location: home or road) x 3 (type of shot: free throw, field goal, three point shot) within groups ANOVA design was employed. We predicted in Hypothesis 1 that a home performance advantage would emerge for shooting tasks in college basketball games. In general, a home performance advantage existed for shooting as evidenced by a significant main effect for location, F (1, 154) = 30.29, p < .05, partial η2  = .28. Teams at home (free throws, M = .69, SD = .04; field goals, M = .46, SD = .03; three point shots, M = .36, SD = .04) shot better than visiting teams (free throws, M = .69, SD = .04; field goals, M = .43, SD = .02; three point shots, M = .34, SD = .03). This supports Hypothesis 1.

We speculated that teams would perform better shooting free throws than field goals, and better shooting field goals than three point shots. We further hypothesized that, based on social facilitation, the greatest home performance advantage would emerge for free throws, the easiest shots, and the least would occur on three point shots, the most difficult shots.

Consistent with our prediction, the type of shot produced a strong main effect, F (2, 154) = 2970.46, p < .05, partial η2  = .97. A significant linear contrast across type of shot, F (1, 154) = 1502.80, p < .05, partial η2  = .87, indicates support for our prediction concerning shot difficulty. Free throws were easier than field goals which, in turn, were easier than three point shots.

In addition, a significant interaction emerged for type of shot by location, F (2, 154) = 9.46, p < .05, partial η2  = .10. Post hoc contrasts revealed that only field goal shooting was significantly better at home than on the road, F (1, 154) = 5.85, p < .05. The home performance advantage was not significantly evident for free throws, F (1, 154) < 0.01, p > .05, or three point shots, F (1, 154) = 2.60, p > .05. This is inconsistent with Hypothesis 2 which predicted the greatest home performance advantage for the easiest task, free throw shooting.


We hypothesized, based on social facilitation, that better shooting teams would reflect a greater home performance advantage than teams with lower overall shooting percentages. To examine these hypotheses, we examined the correlations between overall shooting performance and the difference between home shooting averages and road shooting averages for each type of shot. Teams which shot better displayed a greater home performance advantage than teams that did not shoot as well for field goals, r = .23, p < .05. This supports Hypothesis 4. However, no significant relationship emerged between home performance advantage and shooting ability for either free throw shooting, r = .03, p > .05, or for three point shooting, r = .14, p > .05, although in each case the correlations were positive. Thus Hypotheses 3 and 5 are not supported.

The results of this study were mixed concerning social facilitation as a causal mechanism for home performance advantage in college basketball. In general, teams performed better at home than on the road for shooting tasks in college basketball. Additionally, the findings for three point shooting and for field goal shooting are consistent with social facilitation. A significant home performance advantage emerged for field goal shooting, an easier task, but not for three point shooting, a more difficult task. However, it is worth noting that a home performance advantage did not emerge for free throw shooting, the easiest task.

In addition, task ability was a significant predictor of the home advantage in field goal shooting in our sample. As overall field goal shooting percentages improved, teams displayed a greater home advantage. For superior shooting teams, shooting tasks are easier or more dominant than for teams that do not shoot as well. Thus, increasing the likelihood that a task would be dominant (i.e., playing in familiar confines and being particularly good at the task) led to greater improvement in task performance. In contrast, for three point shooting task difficulty may be high enough that the task remains a non-dominant task
regardless of setting or ability. Thus, the benefits of social facilitation did not emerge for three point shooting. Still, we must address why no improvement occurs for free throw shooting at home or on the road in college basketball. Three possibilities appear plausible: Ceiling effects, social inhibition, and referee bias.

Ceiling effect. It is possible that free throw shooting is a dominant task. Although field goals and three point shots will vary in location and defensive pressure, a free throw is the same during games as it is in practice every time. It may be that anytime a college basketball player shoots a free throw before a crowd, social facilitation occurs and that the benefits of being at home or being a better shooting team are bounded by a ceiling effect. In contrast, field goal shooting appears to be a task that can be dominant or non-dominant while three point shooting appears largely a non-dominant task. Because we used team statistics in the current study, the variation in shooting ability was relatively small. If a ceiling effect occurs, it is possible that poor free throw shooters, for whom the task is non-dominant, may benefit from a home performance advantage. Alternatively, some players who are very skilled at three point shooting may display a similar advantage. This can be addressed in future studies.

Social inhibition. Silva and Andrew (1987) argue that the home advantage in college basketball is created more by impaired performance by visiting teams than by improved performance for home teams. Consistent with the findings in this study, they found that overall shooting percentages for free throw shooting did not differ for home and visiting teams but a home performance advantage did occur for field goal shooting percentages. They argued that because free throw shooting is a simpler task than field goal shooting, social inhibition occurs for field goals but not for free throws when teams are on the road.

Although the social inhibition argument is plausible based on Silva and Andrewís (1987) findings, it is less compelling when the results of the present study are considered. If social inhibition occurs for visiting teams, the greatest differences in performance should occur for poor shooting teams because they face a less well learned task than better shooting teams. The opposite results emerge in the current study. Better shooting teams display a greater home performance advantage than teams with the lowest shooting percentages. It is unlikely that these results can be explained using a social inhibition perspective.

Referee bias. Although a compelling argument has been presented that home audiences influence team performance via social facilitation, it may be that the audience affects not the behaviors of the players but of the referees. Several authors have considered how the home advantage in college basketball could reflect advantageous calls made for the home team by the referees (e.g., Greer, 1983; Nevill, Balmer, & Williams, 2002; Varca, 1980).
Additionally, if being on the road produces social inhibition, the greatest effects should occur for three point shooting. Again, our results indicate three point shooting is relatively unaffected by game setting.

Referee bias could influence game performance in a variety of ways. If the game is being called more closely against the visiting team than the home team, the visiting team will likely need to be less aggressive on defense than the home team. If the visiting teamís defense is less aggressive than that of the home team, this should be reflected in a relative shooting advantage for the home team. Referee bias would not provide the home team with any advantage in free throw shooting percentages because free throws are uncontested. Thus, referee bias represents a feasible alternative explanation to social facilitation for the results concerning field goal shooting in this study.

Evidence for referee bias can be found in the Thu et al. (2002) finding that referees call more fouls on the team that is ahead when games are televised. Further evidence is revealed in Lehman and Reifmanís (1987) finding that referees call fewer fouls on star players playing at home. This indicates that referees may be cognizant who is observing the game and how those observers might respond to certain calls. That this awareness could manifest itself in calling a game more loosely for the home team seems reasonable. Evidence of bias in refereeing or judging is also found in other sports than basketball. Balmer, Nevill, and Williams (2001), for instance, argue that subjectively judged competitions display the greatest home nation advantage in Olympic events. Perhaps the most compelling case for referee bias is presented in an experimental study conducted by Nevill et al. (2002). Officials were exposed to settings with audible crowd noise or no crowd noise. Referees in the silent condition called more fouls against the home team than those in the audible crowd noise condition.

Bias displayed by referees could reflect a normative influence process or it could reflect an informational influence process (Henningsen & Henningsen, 2003; Kaplan & Miller, 1987). A normative influence process would occur if referees attempted to please the fans by making calls that encourage the fans to look with favor on the referees. An informational influence process would occur if the refereesí perceptions of the game were influenced by how the fans seem to view the same events. Thus, a referee may trust the fans' responses to a play more than the evidence of their own senses. Although referee bias is consistent with our findings concerning field goals and free throws in this study, three point shooting should also benefit from referee bias which was not the case in this study. Nor would referee bias necessarily explain why better shooting teams show greater improvement than poorer shooting teams.

Conclusions and Directions for Future Research
It was proposed that social facilitation could explain performance advantages experienced by home teams over visiting teams in college basketball. A formal test of social facilitation was conducted by examining shooting percentages at home and on the road in college basketball games for shots of varying difficulty and across teams with differing shooting abilities. Some evidence for social facilitation emerged (i.e., a home performance advantage for overall shooting, a greater advantage on field goal shooting for better shooting teams, a greater advantage on field goals than on three point shots) but the results are inconclusive. Three possible explanations for the findings in this study were presented. We argue that a ceiling effect on social facilitation occurring for free throw shooting is the most parsimonious alternative and the most consistent with all the results of this study. However, the inconclusive nature of our findings do indicate the need for future research in this area.


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