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Effect of Surveillance on Autonomy and Greed

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Published: Fri, 17 Aug 2018

Discussion

The research hypothesis of this study stated that when individuals were under surveillance, they would feel a lack of autonomy or more controlled. Therefore, participants would subsequently demonstrate a higher level of greed, in comparison to those not under surveillance. This was supported by the ideas of SDT about autonomy being a fundamental psychological need, and so resulting in adverse consequences when not attained.

The results derived from this research were not significant, indicating that no effects were found in either condition and therefore do not support the initial research prediction. Although not significant, data suggestive of a trend was found for ‘decision’ and ‘condition’ on negative affect. This demonstrated that participants who were in the experimental condition and kept all of their tickets (indicating a higher level of greed) showed increased levels of negative affect, compared to those who ‘gave some’ tickets. This could be interpreted as the individuals feeling guilt or other negative emotions about their decision when under surveillance. This may indicate that surveillance has an effect on negative feelings, following behaviour.

Similarly, although no significant results were found, a trend suggests that participants who kept all their tickets in the experimental condition experienced a decrease in their just world beliefs. This demonstrates that those individuals who showed higher levels of greed under surveillance subsequently lacked beliefs in a just world, in comparison to the other participants. This may coincide with the trend found for negative affect implying that those participants under surveillance, who kept all tickets, had more feelings of negative affect and lower beliefs in a just world. Regardless of these trends, it has to be emphasised that the effects are not significant so the alleged effect is not concrete.

One explanation for the lack of significance found within the trends may be due to the sample size, which was limited to eighty participants. If a larger sample size was obtained then the trends found may potentially be more powerful. A possible recommendation for future research could be a replication of this study using a greater sample size, to test whether this trend is more prevalent.

As the initial predictions are not supported by the results, they do not support the notions implied by SDT; stating that autonomy is one of the crucial needs that needs to be attained. The current results may also suggest that surveillance is not as controlling as previously implied (Lepper and Greene, 1975), as individuals may still feel autonomous when under surveillance. Alternatively, it may be that the individuals did not notice the cameras. During the study phase, participants were asked whether or not they noticed surveillance – both the cameras and signs. When they did not take notice, which occurred frequently, participants often added comments implying that they had grown accustomed to this surveillance. This aligns with the initial thoughts that there is an abundance of cameras in society, perhaps suggesting an over-usage of the surveillance. These comments alongside the lack of awareness of the cameras can be interpreted as an element of desensitisation to the surveillance. As the earlier quote by Home Office mentioned, individuals become so familiar with the cameras, that they are no longer something out of the ordinary; therefore if unnoticed, their purpose may not be as effective. This also corresponds with findings from the earlier mentioned studies where the surveillance became ineffective after a time lag (Web and Laycock, 1992).

In addition to this, a study conducted by Tilley (1993) observing the power of surveillance in various car parks found that publicity of the surveillance was necessary for it to be effective. Therefore the use of CCTV needs to be directly brought to an individual’s attention for an effect to occur. This coincides with the notion of familiarity with the cameras earlier stated, suggesting that individuals may need some sort of reminder or prompt to be aware of the surveillance.

Prior research has supported the assumptions made by SDT and the general prediction that a lack of autonomy will affect behaviour. Particularly, Cozzolino et al., (2015) used the same measure of greed as the current study, alongside a measure of indirect aggression, finding that surveillance elicited higher levels of greed and aggression. However, Cozzolino et al’s., (2015) study included the usage of more than one experimental task, which may explain the results. The antecedent task provoking aggression may enhance the general demeanour of the participant, prompting individuals to display greed. This may provide an explanation as to why results differed from this current research, as the economic trust task was measured independently.

Self-concept is an important phenomenon to be observed in relation to this primary study. Individuals tend to seek approval from others and feel the need to ensure that they have a positive self-concept, as they prefer to feel better about themselves. This was illustrated by Swann Jr. and Read (1980) who observed the values of self-concept over a series of experiments. Their results indicated that self-concept was of high significance to individuals as participants sought to verify it through others. Lower levels of greed are likely to contribute to a positive self-concept; therefore this need for verification of self-concept may be a contributing factor to their behaviour in the current study. Thus, individuals may have altered their answers intentionally for this reason. Despite being ensured confidentiality, experimenter effects may have occurred, causing the individual to be more sceptical of possible judgement from the experimenter. They may not have wanted to display their actual desire to show a higher level of greed, fearful of the impression they may make on the experimenter, therefore portraying actions that they think may be expected of them, more accepted, or more aligned with their self-concept.

In addition to this the Theory of Reasoned Action (Fishbein and Ajzen, 1980) may contribute to the notion that individuals behaved in a way that they believed met societal expectations. This theory proposes that individuals have two different types of motivation, one of which is subjective norms; this is perceived social pressure to execute certain behaviours. In this case, subjective norms would point to acts of less greed (as this is more socially acceptable) which may explain the decision made by individuals in this study. Participants may be more influenced by their subjective norms than any other factors, causing them to behave differently.

Interestingly Haley and Fessler (2005) observed the effect of evoked observability on pro-social behaviour through various different methods. These researchers measured levels of generosity using an economic game task, similar to that of the current study. This study provided a visual cue to make individuals feel as though they were being observed. This was in the form of stylised eye representations on the background of the computer they were completing the task on. Although this differs to the primary study conducted, the use of eye spots may make individuals feel as though they are under control, or that they are being ‘watched.’ They found that in the eye spot condition, in comparison to control, allocations were 55% higher, therefore displaying higher levels of generosity. This illustrates alternative effects to those initially predicted in the primary study, Haley and Fessler expected individuals to be more generous when in the eye spot condition, which was found. Perhaps it should be reconsidered which types of behaviour are usually demonstrated when ‘being watched’ as pro-social behaviour may be more prevalent than anti-social behaviours predicted by this primary study.

While it has been strongly implied that surveillance can be perceived as a form of social control (causing individuals to lose their autonomy), this control itself may infer different effects. When being watched, individuals may feel that they need to act in a certain way. They may be reluctant to portray their genuine feelings or actions as they are afraid of what those surveying may think. When not under surveillance individuals are likely to act more freely as a result of feeling less pressured by subjective norms, and therefore are able to behave more genuinely. Moreover, individual’s actions may be more likely to be of an authentic nature, reflecting their intrinsic motivations. This coincides well with the trends found, implying that surveillance may inflict feelings of negative affect. Individuals may only feel guilt about their decision because of the judgement they may face from ‘being watched.’

Another possible limitation which may have arisen with this study may be placed with the methodology. As stated the study involved an economic trust task, measuring levels of greed on the basis of the raffle tickets. Firstly, this task may lack an element of ecological validity as the situation that individuals were placed in with this task may be perceived as unrealistic. It is unlikely that individuals would be asked to decide the allocation of raffle tickets; therefore it may not reflect real life behaviour. In addition to this, the environment in which the task was completed may also be considered less ecologically valid, being in a room with a computer and an experimenter close by. This may be a possible explanation as to why significant results were not found, as the task was not representative of a real-life situation, mirroring real behaviour.

Furthermore, another methodological concern may be the format of the study. Participants were told that they were matched with another participant who made the tickets available to them; however they may not have believed that there was another participant involved. The sample included a generous amount of psychology students, who may have more insight and so are aware that these studies often involve an element of deception. Therefore they may have displayed a higher level of greed, regardless of surveillance, if they realised that there was no other participant. To improve this further studies could account for this in different ways. Firstly, using a sample of students from different departments, or not using a student population may affect findings, as they are unlikely to have prior background knowledge about experiments of this nature. Additionally it could be made more plausible that there is another participant involved. Future studies may have the other participant wait in the same area as the current participant, or have a confederate pretend to be the ‘other’ participant. This may make it more believable to the participant, and may evoke the effect initially expected.

Trying to gain the insight of someone else is a difficult task, which is one that has been challenged in this study. The evidence found for these various measures used such as the feelings of control involve introspective awareness, observing the understanding of others. As earlier stated, the Cronbach’s alpha for these measures were not consistent, therefore it has to be questioned whether it is possible to rely completely on the use of these measures as they tend to involve an element of inconsistency.

Despite a consistent level of non-significance in the current study, the notion of social control is still very plausible. Previous research has delved into this phenomenon, such as the well-known obedience experiment by Milgram (1963). It was found that participants obeyed the instructions of those who they perceived as having authority. This illustrates that this form of social control can have an effect on individual’s behaviour, altering it significantly. In the same way that surveillance works as social control in altering individual’s behaviour.

It can be argued, from an alternative viewpoint that there is an evolutionary basis for greed. Evolution emphasises the importance of survival, to the next generation and to continue to pass down genes. Therefore greed can be interpreted as a means of survival, gaining the resources necessary from an evolutionary standpoint. This could be an alternative explanation for higher levels of greed being prevalent; individuals may not be affected by surveillance but have evolutionary needs that guide their behaviour.

Frustration of psychological needs can be fatal and lead to adverse consequences, especially when observing the analysis of certain disorders. For example it has been suggested that a frustration of autonomy can lead to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Individuals feel they are being controlled or are unable to be in charge of themselves, so they control their environment instead. Similarly eating disorders is another form of the regaining of this control from an experience of lack of autonomy, as they tend to come from a very controlling environment. With more controlling and strict parents, individuals are more vulnerable to eating disorders. Without autonomy, individuals are more likely to develop psychopathology, as they defend against difficult experiences rather than overcoming them. Therefore it is important that further research is done to observe the implications that may derive from the thwarting of these needs, specifically autonomy.

While no significant effects were found to support the suggested hypotheses of this current research, it is still crucial that further investigation takes place. An array of prior research has found prevalent effects demonstrating that surveillance can evoke feelings of powerlessness and that this lack of autonomy can be detrimental to individuals. Therefore additional research is necessary to find concrete evidence for the effects of surveillance.


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