Watching YouTube videos, Instagram demos and Facebook tutorials may boost your confidence in performing a task but it probably would not make you an expert overnight, suggests new research. Social media platforms have made it easy to record, share, and access instructional videos, but merely watching them without practicing the demonstrated skills may not actually improve our ability to perform them, according to the findings published in the journal Psychological Science.
“The more that people watched others, the more they felt they could perform the same skill too – even when their abilities hadn’t actually changed for the better,” said study author Michael Kardas of The University of Chicago Booth School of Business in the US. “Our findings suggest that merely watching others could cause people to attempt skills that they might not be ready or able to perform themselves,” Kardas said.
In one online experiment, the researchers assigned 1,003 participants to watch a video, read step-by-step instructions, or merely think about performing the “tablecloth trick,” which involves pulling a tablecloth off a table without disturbing the place settings on top. People who watched the five-second video 20 times were much more confident of their ability to pull off the trick than were those who watched the video once.
However, people who simply read or thought about the trick for an extended period of time did not show this confidence boost. These results provided initial evidence that repeated viewing may lead people to an inflated sense of competence. To find out whether this perception is borne out by actual performance, the researchers tested a group of 193 participants on their dart-throwing abilities.
Those who watched a demo video 20 times estimated that they would score more points than those who saw the video only once — this high-exposure group also predicted that they would be more likely to hit the bull’s-eye and reported that they had learned more technique and improved more after watching the video.
But these perceptions did not line up with reality — people who watched the video many times scored no better than those who saw it once. The researchers found evidence for this phenomenon in other domains, including doing the moonwalk, playing a digital computer game and juggling. “We see this as a potentially widespread phenomenon given that people have daily access to outlets for watching others perform,” Kardas said.
“Anyone who goes online to look up tips before attempting a skill — from cooking techniques to DIY (do it yourself) home repairs to X Games tricks — would benefit from knowing that they might be overconfident in their own abilities after watching, and should exercise caution before attempting similar skills themselves,” Kardas added.