Why people perform better when they are being watched 

The Telegraph Technology 6 months ago

Technology may have made working from home easier than ever, but according to a new study, staff who are out of sight may not perform as well as those in the office.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, US, wanted to find out whether being watched while undertaking a task made a difference to its outcome.

Many people believe that being under constant scrutiny damages their creativity while others live in fear of freezing in front of an audience during a public event.

But the findings suggest that the pressure of others actually makes people achieve more.

"You might think having people watch you isn't going to help, but it might actually make you perform better," said lead author Vikram Chib, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins and the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

"An audience can serve as an extra bit of incentive."

Participants played games on their own or with an audience and did better when they were watched 

When people know they are being observed, parts of the brain associated with social awareness and reward invigorate a part of the brain that controls motor skills, improving their performance at skilled tasks.

In the new experiment, Dr Chib and colleagues asked 20 participants to play a game on a Nintendo Wii or Xbox Kinect.

The participants performed the task both in front of an audience of two and with no one watching. Their brain activity was monitored with functional magnetic resonance imaging.

While people were watching, participants were an average of five percent better at the video game - and as much as 20 percent better. Only two participants didn't perform better in front of others.

But if the audience was a lot bigger, and the stakes higher, the results could have gone the other way.

"Here, people with social anxiety tended to perform better," added Dr Chib. "But at some point, the size of the audience could increase the size of one's anxiety. ... We still need to figure that out."

The research was published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

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