Effects of perceived scrutiny on participant memory for social interactions

Charles G. Lord, Delia S. Saenz, Debra K. Godfrey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


It is well known that passive audiences can impair performance on all but the simplest of tasks. The present research asked whether audience impairment effects occur as well when performers do not know, but only imagine that they are being watched, when performers are interacting with rather than merely being observed by the "audience," and when the performance in question is one to which the audience has no access-namely, the encoding of information exchanged in a dyadic interaction. The hypothesis was that worry about being evaluated interferes with effective information processing, but only for time periods during which one of two interactants entertains distracting thoughts about the other person's possible scrutiny. To model this situation, pairs of unacquainted university students were asked to exchange opinions over a "TV phone." On some trials one subject's image appeared on both monitors, on some trials the other subject's image appeared on both monitors, and on some trials both monitors were blank. In subsequent unanticipated recognition memory tests, participants remembered fewer of the opinions expressed during time periods when their own image was shown. This occurred even when nothing about participants' overt behavior affected the memory of observers, even when the TV images were supposedly incidental to the task, and even when the periods of scrutiny occurred at random 15-sec intervals, but the effect was limited to subjects who worry about the impression they make, and to time periods when their image was available to the other participants (not just to themselves).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)498-517
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1987
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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