PrepperPsych 101: Somebody’s Watching

Sometimes Salty is smarter than I am.  (Most of the time?? Always??)  He was definitely smarter than I was about the security cameras.  When he put out a couple dummy cameras (red light run by a battery, no real recording, what we could afford at the time) I didn’t think anybody would even notice.  Until six people in town mentioned them to me during the next week.  Even those neighbors who would in no way be ‘casing’ our house had noticed.

Here’s the psychology tidbit that got me thinking about this topic:  When people are being watched, they behave more pro-socially:  They’re less likely to litter, more likely to be generous, more likely to contribute to ‘honor system’ collection boxes, etc.* . It’s not so surprising that people behave better when other people are watching; we like to be liked.  The weird part is that it works even if it’s not a person watching but just an image of a face.  Even drawing a cartoon of a face with eyes ‘looking’ at the person standing in front of the coffee pot in the break room on the ‘please contribute’ sign leads to higher contributions than the sign without a drawing, or with hearts or butterflies or rainbow unicorns or whatever.

Doesn’t seem like this….

…would inhibit smokers more than this perhaps … but it does.

So, there are two main messages for preppers I get from this psychological quirk:

Security cameras make it more likely your preps will stay your preps.

Even if those cameras aren’t real.  Would a dummy camera ward off someone who came with the intent to rob?  I bet not.  This effect is rather subtle, not enough to turn away the determined.  The opportunist, or the larcenous jerk who wasn’t intending to check out your place in particular though, may well turn his attention elsewhere.  If the cameras are real, they may well turn even a professional thief to a softer target.

Dummy cameras are cheap, and people do notice them. I would suggest a less-well-known brand. Real cameras are better but more expensive.

Even when there’s no power, ‘watchers’ may discourage incursions

Logically, anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows no power = no functioning cameras; but then, anyone with even one very lonely brain cell knows the eyes on the poster by the coffee pot aren’t really watching either.  It’s not about what people logically know.  It’s part of our wiring as a social species, and it’s below conscious control.  This trick won’t work miracles, but given the very low investment cost, if it helps even a little to erode the enthusiasm of a potential invader, it’s a win.

*Bateson M, Callow L, Holmes JR, Redmond Roche ML, Nettle D (2013) Do Images of ‘Watching Eyes’ Induce Behaviour That Is More Pro-Social or More Normative? A Field Experiment on Littering. PLOS ONE 8(12): e82055. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0082055

Top graphic: The Eyes Of Dr. TJ Eckelberg by artist Hasunkan, used with permission.



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  1. This fits with the experience with body cameras on police. I’ve read that there are huge drops in violence by both the police and the public once body cameras are deployed.

  2. That was an interesting article you linked to. Seems like it works if the person has a conscience. The graphic reminds them (subtly) that their actions may not be as anonymous as first imagined. Now, for folks with “seared” concsciences…

    • I don’t know, Mic…it’s so subconscious. There’s sociopaths whose brains are wired differently and just *don’t* care; then there are people whose experience have scarred them. It could *possibly* still work with the latter.

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