The watching eyes phenomenon and bodycams

Years of scientific research have resulted in a general consensus that the presence of watching eyes, feelings of being watched and cameras positively affect human behaviour. ZEPCAM’s customers experience identical positive effects on a daily basis, resulting from the fact that bodycams act in a similar manner. The possibility of being recorded has consistently proven to positively influence behaviour and interactions between frontline professionals and the public, as well as providing a direct, watching witness to any incident.

Bodycams ZEPCAM round below

Evidence from several studies found clearly positive results:

Antisocial behaviour reduces by as much as 36% when you feel watched

Subconscious social patterns are evident in that individuals behave differently when faced with subtle cues of being watched. In a landmark meta analysis from 2019, researchers analysed the 13 most extensive research papers on this topic and calculated this very significant result: antisocial behaviour reduces by as much as 36% when eye cues were present. In these studies eye cues were actual images of eyes present in the experiment, which triggered feelings of being watched. Psychologists and social scientists have confirmed that this feeling of being watched affects our behaviour in a positive manner, as we become more publicly self-aware. Neuropsychological research supports this claim as watching eyes prompt a subconscious reputation management mechanism that changes our behaviour.  As the researchers state themselves:

“The ‘watching eyes effect’ suggests that just feeling watched may be enough to make us modify our actions”*

In these experiments participants were never actually watched as there was just an image of an eye present in the experiment. This same mechanism is at the foundation of bodycam technology. The mere presence of the bodycam, or a statement about the presence of bodycams is enough to trigger subconscious changes to the public’s behaviour. This has been confirmed by frontline professionals using ZEPCAM bodycams in many industries, from public transport to (municipal) police, from fire brigades to hospitals. This same effect has been studied and confirmed in relation to the presence of cameras.  

Cameras and bodycams improve interactions and behaviours

Research has indicated the positive relationship between the presence of cameras, and changed behaviour by the public. They found that there is a significant relationship between helping behaviour and the presence of cameras. This mechanism occurs as a result of the implication of an audience, and being watched. They further suggest that this effect will be even stronger when more is done to create public awareness of the presence of cameras; through signs, advertisements, stickers on uniforms or other public statements about their presence. Other researchers also found a reduction of crime by 16% in the presence of visible security cameras. To put that into perspective, the researchers used data from the U.K.’s Costs of Crime report: as crime cost the U.K. between 30-60 billion pounds a year, even a 1% reduction would result in yearly savings of 350 million pounds. And that is a very cautious, conservative estimate.

Security cameras increase visibility and accountability, leading to less undesirable behaviour. This has also been found to be true in the case of bodycams, with ZEPCAM’s customers in many industries experiencing this during their daily duties on the frontline. Belgian police, from police officers to commissioners, stated in a 2021 research paper that the bodycams consistently result in improved behaviour by the public they interact with. The mere presence of the bodycam, and the possibility of being recorded, often de-escalates a tough situation, improves the behaviour of the public and results in a return to civilised interactions. Public transport officials, traffic wardens, municipal police and healthcare staff have confirmed to ZEPCAM that this mechanism is consistently present and works exactly as intended. Whenever a situation is at risk of escalation, mentioning or activating the bodycam has an immediate calming effect on those involved, and allows for a civilised and safe conclusion to the incident.

As more and more sectors adopt bodycam solutions to combat industry problems, we will see a further reduction in the amount of unsafe interactions and escalations with the public, as they know the risk of being watched or recorded will clearly have a negative result for them. This in turn will result in a reduction of the risks, damages and costs associated with undesirable and potentially dangerous behaviour. Furthermore, the reduction of the negative aspects of frontline work results in more rewarding work for frontline professionals in many industries, as they feel safer and better with bodycams for back-up.

*Van Rompay, T. J. L., Vonk, D. J., Fransen, M.L. (2009). The eye of the camera: effects of security cameras on prosocial behavior, Environment and Behavior 41(1), 60-74.

*Pfattheicher, S., & Keller, J. (2015). The watching eyes phenomenon: The role of a sense of being seen and public self-awareness. European Journal of Social Psychology 45(5), 560–566.

*Dear, K., Dutton, K., Fox, E. (2019). Do ‘watching eyes influence antisocial behavior? A systematic review and meta-analysis, Evolution and Human Behavior 40, 269-280.

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