When people were placed in front of a mirror, or told that their actions were being filmed, they consistently changed their behavior. These self-conscious people worked harder at laboratory tasks. They gave more valid answers to questionnaires (meaning that their answers jibed more closely with their actual behavior). They were more consistent in their actions, and their actions were also more consistent with their values.
Whenever people focused on themselves, they seemed to compare what they saw with some sort of idea of what they should be like. A person who looked in the mirror usually didn’t stop at, Oh, that’s me. Rather, the person was more likely to think, My hair is a mess, or This shirt looks good on me, or I should remember to stand up straight, or, inevitably, Have I gained weight? Self-awareness always seemed to involve comparing the self to these ideas of what one might, or should, or could, be.
Charles Carver and Michael Scheier, who arrived at a vital insight: Self-awareness evolved because it helps self-regulation. They had conducted their own experiments observing people sitting at a desk where there happened to be a mirror. The mirror seemed a minor accessory—not even important enough to mention to the people—yet it caused profound differences in all kinds of behavior. If the people could see themselves in the mirror, they were more likely to follow their own inner values instead of following someone else’s orders. When instructed to deliver shocks to another person, the mirror made people more restrained and less aggressive than a control group that wasn’t facing a mirror. A mirror prompted them to keep working harder at a task. When someone tried to bully them into changing their opinion about something, they were more likely to resist the bullying and stick to their opinion.
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