Being observed magnifies action

J. Steinmetz, Q. Xu, A. Fishbach, Y. Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


We test the hypothesis that people, when observed, perceive their actions as more substantial because they add the audience’s perspective to their own perspective. We find that participants who were observed while eating (Study 1) or learned they were observed after eating (Study 2) recalled eating a larger portion than unobserved participants. The presence of others magnified both desirable and undesirable actions. Thus, observed (vs. unobserved) participants believed they gave both more correct and incorrect answers in a lab task (Study 3) and, moving to a field study, the larger the audience, the larger the contribution badminton players claimed toward their teams’ successes as well as failures (Study 4). In contrast to actions, inactions are not magnified, because they are unobservable; indeed, observed (vs. unobserved) participants believed they solved more task problems but did not skip more problems (Study 5). Taken together, these studies show that being observed fundamentally alters the subjective magnitude of one’s actions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)852-865
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


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