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People Perform Better With An Audience, Study Says

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People actually perform a task better when there is an audience present, a team of neuroscientists found, possibly disproving the natural assumption that people tend not to do well when others are watching, or performance anxiety.

When as individual is being observed, the areas of the brain linked to social awareness and reward improve the region of the brain that controls motor skills, reports.

Vikram Chib, an assistant professor of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University and the Kennedy Krieger Institute and lead author on the study, initially sought to focus on how performance is negatively affected when people are being watched, until he found that having an audience actually helped people perform more efficiently in certain situations.

Chib and colleagues developed an experiment in order to test how well people could complete a task with an audience if there was money involved as motivation. Participants were given a small amount of money depending on how well they played a video game much like Xbox or Wii games. The participants played the games with two audience members watching, then again with no audience. Their brains were monitored using functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The study found that the presence of people watching increased the need for the participants to do well.

Brain scans also showed that the part of the prefrontal cortex linked to social cognition was activated along with a part of the brain associated with reward when there was an audience. This triggered stimulation in the ventral striatum, which is responsible for motor skills.

While under observation by an audience, 90% of the people played the video game up to 20% better. Chib added that in a situation like having more people watching, the results might have been different. He said, “Here, people with social anxiety tended to perform better, 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 study was published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

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