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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 10-Jan-07


Wednesday 10-January-07

Honesty and eyes

Melissa Bateson and her colleagues Daniel Nettle and Gilbert Roberts, in the Evolution and Behaviour Research Group in the School of Biology and Psychology at Newcastle University, has done a fascinating experiment using a long-running 'honesty box', where people pay for something by putting money into a box

The simple experiment was to put two different A5 posters over the box, in a University common room, where it had been for many years as a way of paying for hot drinks. It was regularly used by around 48 staff, who were not told an experiment was taking place.

The poster had an image banner across it. On alternate weeks, the banner showed either flowers or a pair of eyes. And guess what: in the weeks that there were eyes, people paid nearly three times as much for their drinks! The poster was varied to include different gender eyes and different head orientations, but the eyes were always looking at the camera and hence at the person giving the money.

Dr Bateson said, "Our brains are programmed to respond to eyes and faces whether we are consciously aware of it or not. I was really surprised by how big the effect was as we were expecting it to be quite subtle, but the statistics show that the eyes had a strong effect on our tea and coffee drinkers."

Impression Management and Social Facilitation indicate how important it is for us to 'look good' to others. We are very sensitive to others looking at us as we feel that they are judging us in some way. This is so ingrained in us that even an obviously static picture will trigger responses that change how we behave.

So who's looking at you, kid?

Source: Bateson, M., Nettle, D. and Roberts, G. 'Cues of being watched enhance cooperation in a real-world setting' Biology Letters 2006

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