A unique playback system was used to exaggerate continuously the number of calls heard in royal penguin, Eudyptes schlegeli, colonies to determine whether social facilitation increases a female's exposure to both sexual and agonistic activities, a process that could influence the timing of reproduction in colonies. We also determined whether the source of colony sound or the phase of the breeding cycle influenced the facilitation of sexual or agonistic activities. The system recorded and then played a new 12-min colony sound sample every 24 min throughout the first four phases of the breeding cycle. Because each broadcast was unique, this playback system avoids the possibility of habituation and can modify the acoustic environment in social groups for extended periods of time. The activities of penguins in control colonies (with no playback) were compared with those in colonies that heard samples derived from either their own or a different colony. Colony sound facilitated both sexual and agonistic activities from male and female royal penguins during all four phases of the cycle that we examined. Playbacks from the perceiver's own colony facilitated a greater response than sound originating from a different colony. Studies comparing egg-laying dates in colonies exposed continuously to the sounds of agonistic activities with those in control colonies, or colonies exposed continuously to the sounds of sexual activities are now needed to determine whether the facilitation of agonistic activities opposes the effects of social stimulation on the hormonal changes leading to ovulation in colony-dwelling birds. Copyright 2000 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.