Americana: United We Stand Around

For most Americans, a job is a social undertaking. On assembly lines and at construction sites, in offices and around operating tables, many hands make light work. Yet a team of psychologists has found that people may work harder when alone. In groups, the researchers say, Americans become "social loafers."

The team tested a group of Ohio State University students swimming laps, while others were making noise clapping and shouting. Each noisemaker let his output drop by half when he switched from solitude to a group of four. The researchers theorize that workers do poorly in a group because they know they...

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