Mirror, Mirror in the Pew

Some interesting research has shown that mirrors tend to suppress prejudice.

People exhibit less prejudice when they're in the presence of a mirror, Dutch researchers have shown. Carina Wiekens and Diederik Stapel said this effect occurs because mirrors make us more aware of our public appearance, and therefore remind us of the need to fall in line with social norms.
The researchers concluded: "Our results suggest that when both private and public selves are activated [by the mirror] they do not cancel each other out when it concerns their input for normative behaviour. Rather, public concerns "win" and people show more appropriate, norm-driven behaviour."
Very interesting!  I wonder what would happen if we put these in the church: would people tone down their rhetoric?  Would committees be happy and sunshiney with puppy dogs?  Would it tell us which church is the fairest of them all?

Another blogger noted that this phenomenon has been shown in other ways as well:
This appears to be just one aspect of a more general phenomenon: It seems that people monitor themselves more closely when they can see themselves in the mirror. For example, there are studies which show that overweight people eat less when a mirror is placed in front of them.
Interesting research.  The key effect of mirrors is this: Mirrors make us feel watched. And while that may sound creepy, the psychological effect can be that we are more aware of our own actions and presentation of Christ in our daily lives.  Opposite of vanity, mirrors can make us more aware of our own discipleship.

It started me thinking of places where mirrors could be helpful in a church.
  • On the stairs leading to the pulpit, reminding the preacher that their face is representing Christ at this moment.
  • On the wall of a committee meeting room, reminding people that what they say behind closed doors is still a reflection on them.
  • In the pews, allowing people to watch themselves to see how they incorporate the lesson (or put on their mascara).
The last one was facetious, as I think mirrors in the pews would exacerbate individualism and vanity to unhealthy levels.  But the implications of making people feel "watched" and becoming more self-aware are interesting.  I'll have to think on this a bit.

What do you think? 
  • Would mirrors in a worship space cause people to think more reflectively about themselves and about society?  
  • Or are mirrors and efforts to have people feel "watched" unhealthy?


johnmeunier September 2, 2008 at 9:58 AM  

I believe this principle is why you sometimes here church teaching about God always watching or paying attention. It is specifically to create a sense of being watched.

This is certainly why Mom and Dad told me Santa was watching.

These examples suggest social norms are being enforced, but what if that is not good? What if the social norm is racist or sexist? What if the social norm is not to trouble those in power with a troubling word from God?

Increasing self-consciousness may not be as useful as increasing God-consciousness.

My two cents.

HP September 2, 2008 at 10:12 AM  

Reminds me of Foucault's reading of the panopticon.

I wonder about the power of this self-policing to actually embody the Gospel. By this, I mean if we do the "right" thing because we feel we are being watched, are we doing it for the "right" reason? Shouldn't we live out the gospel lifestyle because it is the right thing to do in and of itself and not because we are fearful of the police (whether they be institutions, God, self or other)? I suppose this is an ends/means question of sorts.

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