Electronic Eyes: The Cognitive Effects of Webcam Surveillance
Kieran McDonagh, J.F.
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A side effect of the recent pandemic is that we now often view one another through the lens of a webcam. Physical communication has been replaced by online technologies. However, relatively little is known about the cognitive, behavioural and psychological effects that they may induce (Claypoole & Szalma, 2019). In this study, we aim to look at webcam surveillance monitoring, part of a pool of literature known as electronic performance monitoring (Ravid, 2020). We hypothesize that webcams elicit similar effects to social presence, and restrict participants’ attention capacity, resulting in a decrease in cognitive performance. A total of 87 participants completed an online recognition-memory (RM) task and Stroop task. Half of these participants were told they were being recorded, while the other half were not. Linear mixed effects models revealed that participants were not significantly slower or less accurate in the webcam condition. However, when making errors, participants in the Stroop task were significantly slower in the webcam group, and in the RM task, significantly faster at responding to trials. The bi-directional nature of the effects can be partly explained by aspects of Social Facilitation Theory (Zajonc, 1965). We conclude that when one must elicit cognitive control in the presence of surveillance technology, and errors are made, it seems that this decision-making process is negatively influenced by the presence of a webcam, and the direction of the effect is moderated by the difficulty of the task.