Researchers have found that people become more honest when exposed to a poster showing a pair of eyes looking out at them. We all behave in a more honest way when there are witnesses, this study shows that even when we know the eyes are not real, the effect of making us more honest is still there. This is according to research carried out at Newcastle University, UK.

The researchers carried out their study in the university canteen. Employees who wanted to buy a drink had to put the right amount of money into an ?honesty box’. This means there was no one there to collect the money, they just took their drink and placed the money in a box. There was no one around to see how much money they placed.

Behind the honesty box, on the wall, there was a poster. For half the ten-week period it was a large poster of flowers. For the other half it was a large poster with a pair of eyes that gave the impression they were looking at you. The poster was placed at eye-level, just above the height of the honesty box. The posters were switched each week, one week the flowers were up, the next the eyes were up, etc.

When the poster with the eyes was present, people put almost three times as much money into the box, than when the poster with flowers was present. The researchers said that although people knew they were not real eyes, they believe the people still had that feeling of being watched (because of the eyes), and this made them more honest.

Dr Melissa Bateson, study leader said “We found that people paid 2.76 times as much money when we put a notice on the wall that featured a pair of eyes as opposed to when the image was of some flowers. Although it was just a photocopied black and white poster, we know that people’s brains are set up to process faces and eyes, and that is probably because it is very important for us to know if we are being watched by other people.”

You can read about this study in the journal Biology Letters.

Some believe information gained from this study could be used in devising ways to reduce anti-social behaviour.

Cues of being watched enhance cooperation in a real-world setting
ISSN: 1744-9561 (Paper) 1744-957X (Online)
Issue: FirstCite Early Online Publishing
DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2006.0509
Biology Letters

Written by: Christian Nordqvist
Editor: Medical News Today