• Soo Yon Ryu

Observation and Action.

Article Citation

Janina Steinmetz, Qian Xu, Ayelet Fishbach, and Ying Zhang (2016) Being Observed Magnifies Action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: 2016, Vol. 111, No.6, pp. 852-865

Executive Summaries

The tested hypothesis was that when observed, people’s perception of their own actions become enlarged, due to an added audience’s perspective on top of their own. In the lab study (study 1, study 2), participants showed magnified perception of their action, in this case amount eaten, when observed. This magification not only applied to desirable actions but also undesirable actions too. In another lab study (study 3), participants perceived they gave more correct and more incorrect answers for a simple task. In the field study (study 4), the magnitude of such amplification showed correlation to the size of audience. With larger audience, badminton players perceived their contribution to the team’s success and failures as larger. However, nobservable inactions are not maginified (study 5). In short, people perceive their observable actions to be larger, whether desirable or undesirable, when observed.

Research Question

The influence of presence of others on oneself has been studied for a long time. People have shown to increase speed and performance in simple, well-practiced tasks and decrease performance in complex tasts when observed. In addition to change in action, perception of one’s action may also change in presence of others. Such presence motivates people of establish shared reality, thus adding other’s perspective along their own. This research examines whether observation, thus the addition of other’s perspective, magnifies people’s perceived magnitude of their own action.


Five different studies were conducted in both lab and field.In study 1, participants were observed by a camera in a lab and were provided with food to eat under observation or no observation. In a similar lab study 2, observation was announced only after action(eating) was done. In another lab study 3, the effect of observation on desirable and undesirable effect was testes by providing a simple correct-incorrect test. In field study 4 at a badminton tournament, the effect of size of observers on perceived contribution to positive and negative outcomes was tested. In study 5, by making participants solve test problems and recalling their solving and skipping, the lack of effect of observation on inactions was tested.


The hypothesis was accepted, as people did maginify the perception of their actions when observed. In a series of studies, people were shown to believe they ate larger portions, had more successes and failures in a simple task, and contributed larger to their team’s successes and failures. In addition, people did not magnify their inactions that were unobservable. The shared reality led people to enhance and validate their own action, thereby adding the other’s perspective to their own. Thus, when the shared reality englarges in means of larger audience, the magnitude of the observation effect increases correspondingly.


Consumers maginify the perception of actions when observed. Thus, if the observer can have access to the subject’s state of mind (ex. positive, negative feelings toward one’s action), observer can magnify desired outcome. Such practice can be applied widely in field, from consumer loyalty to MOT experiences.

Key Takeaways

What? People become influenced by presence of others.

So What? People change their actions and magnify their perception of actions when observed.

Now What? People can maximize their experience when appropriate observers are present.

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