Subscriber Discussion

Academic Research On The Social Effects Of Cameras

To any and all,

I am trying to find academic research on the effects of cameras in social/occupational settings.

Most of the articles I have found are contaminated from the standpoint of objectivity. They are written either by vendors or managers ipso facto to support decisions which have already been made. The data may still be legitimate, but the process isn’t very empirical.

Any tips would be very appreciated. Thank you.

Dennis, can you clarify what you mean by 'social/occupational settings'?

There are some academic research but it's typically for city surveillance systems.

Oh, hi, thanks,

What I am trying to learn is how the presence of cameras changes peoples behavior, when the cameras are in the workplace, but not necessarily watching people work.

For example, if the common areas such as the perimeter of a facility, the parking lots, entrances and exits and common hallway are covered; are there measurable effects on safety, compliance, moral?

We don’t want to, except in special cases, video capture persons conducting their primary work functions, but we are always interested in improving the work place, with regard to safety and common practice.

If there is empirical evidence of CCTV systems providing for this, I want to include it in our strategies.

I hope this helps, thanks.

Dennis, I wasn't able to find any as specific as what you were looking for, but if you know anyone with access to JSTOR, I think you may be able to find something there. You can search it for free. It only costs to download the articles.

I suggest searching for the article on JSTOR, then finding the university where the research was completed and searching their website. Sometimes you can find it published on the university website for free.

Maybe these will have some insights you can use:

Social Setting: Do Surveillance Cameras Affect Unruly Behavior? A Close Look at Grandstands from Stockholm Univeristy

Public Setting: The influence of different forms of camera surveillance and personality characteristics on deviant and prosocial behaviour from University of Twente 2011

Social Behavior in Public Space: An Analysis of Behavioral Adaptations to CCTV from Griffith University 2002

Dennis, thanks for the details. It helps!

It's a great question and, as Carlton explains, there are some research papers out there but I don't know of many nor of any that are definitive in this area. Unfortunately, most of the university funding (limited that there is for surveillance) goes to studying public deployments.

Anecdotally (as an integrator/installer)... I've installed lots of cameras from covert to in-your-face for customers wanting to monitor employee actions or catch employee theft/misconduct, and if anything, the effect seems to be only temporary... meaning once they know there are cameras, they'll usually smarten up for a while, but pretty soon forget the cameras are there and are up to their hijinks again.

We had one instance of a retail customer who had an employee trying to run stolen credit cards through the till to buy lottery tickets, every time his co-worker turned his back... tried it repeatedly on two different tills. swiping each card over and over, like MAYBE it would work this time when it hadn't a dozen times already....

Looked at the "attempted purchase" records from the CC companies, looked up the video... two 1.3MP cameras, one behind each paypoint, caught the whole thing in glorious living color. And these weren't inconspicuous cameras, either - they were box cameras on big J-mounts mounted to a bulkhead less than 7' off the ground. A blind man could have seen these cameras... but the clerk was completely oblivious to the fact he was being recorded in high definition.

Also anecdotally.... as fas as Carlton's "Grandstands" article (which I haven't read), it's my experience that at least as far as DRUNKEN unruly behavior, cameras seem to ENCOURAGE it, especially if they're being broadcast live at the time.

Truly wonderful responses. Thank you. I am trying to stay objective on the subject and let the data speak for itself. My experiences so far, with people in industry, is that they refer to so many elements as givens. When pressed to substantiate their claims, they point to other peoples claims. Intuitively I find most of the arguments in favor of cameras compelling, but I think there should be some science in there somewhere. Thank you to all.

Hi Dennis,

I think you're going to be hard-pressed to find much in the way of objective research or articles. The vast majority will be written either by someone with skin in the game or by someone with an axe to grind, either pro-surveillance or anti-surveillance.

Carl, it is true what you say, but I have found that the underlying data frequently is good. The author just draws conclusions to an agenda. That is why I have hoped to find something out of the academic realm. Thanks, Dennis.

This may not meet academic standards and certainly has a particular point of view, but I found the following IPVM article very interesting and also (depending on your standards) may be relevant to your interests:

Police Performance Massively Improved by Surveillance

+1 For Horace! That study is a real academic one, with fascinating results about how it changes police officer's behaviors.

Although the methodology is not always clear, you might find this CDC study interesting.

Bingo. Thank you Horace. This is just the type of study I have been looking for. Well documented and credible sources.

Thank you.

I don't know how much the experience with the police carries over to the general public and cameras in social settings so much... in that case, the police know that their movements are being recorded specifically to evaluate job performance, actions, and interaction with the public, and they know that they'll be held to account.

When you get into more open, social settings with John Q. Public, I think people tend to be oblivious to cameras, or if they aren't, they're oblivious to the chance of consequences. I've seen plenty of situations on the news where people will actually pose for a bevy of cell-phone cameras immediately before launching into something stupid (the recent hockey riots here are a perfect, if extreme, example of that). Granted, these instances are often aided by copious amounts of alcohol or other mood-altering substances... but not always.

Two other things about the police study that might impact its applicability to 'general' surveillance is:

  • Each camera was dedicated to a specific person whereas traditional cameras are scattered around a facility.
  • Each camera included audio meaning not only your actions were captured but your every word.

I think those two aspects would significantly impact the behavior of individuals but are highly atypical in corporate, retail or other facility based surveillance systems.

Matt and John,

Both good points about the limits of straight comparison, between the police study and either "the general public" or "closed work groups.

My thinking tends toward an overall awareness campaign, of which cameras would be a part. Most schools of thought concerning workplace security identify the human element as the greatest risk. Safety I would think is similar. In developing controls to counter such a soft vulnerability I would not think there could be a "silver bullet". I think the evidence starts to point toward cameras being the core of an overall awareness campaign to combat, work place violence, safety/security and morale issues.

It is a tough sale. So I am compiling evidence. Thank you both for your continued interest.

Another difference to consider: as in my examples above, people tend to become oblivious to even the most overt cameras when they're around them day-in and day-out, and the cameras are simply "there" all the time, like any other fixture. With the wearable police cameras, they have to actually put them on before going out, so they're reminded every time that they're going to be recorded.

It would be interesting to see a long-term revisiting of this study, though, as I suspect for at least SOME officers, the obliviousness will start to creep in over time as well - the donning of the cameras will become so routine, they'll start forgetting, in the heat of the moment, that their actions are being recorded, and bad behaviors will start to slip back in. It's not hard to find videos on YouTube, for example, of police misconduct captured on their own cruisers' dashcams...