By Mark Brown, Wired U.K.
Being watched by a photograph of staring eyes can be enough encouragement to behave, follow orders or do the right thing, a study has found.
Psychology researchers at Newcastle University hung two different posters at a restaurant, to see how customers would react. They both featured text asking patrons to bin their rubbish, but one had a picture of flowers on it and the other had a pair of staring eyes.
The number of people who paid attention to the sign, and cleaned up after their meal, doubled when confronted with a pair of gazing peepers. The research team, lead by Dr. Melissa Bateson and Dr. Daniel Nettle of the Centre for Behaviour and Evolution found that twice as many customers followed the orders when met with eyes, compared to figures for the flower poster from the day before.
The study is based on the theory of “nudge psychology,” which suggests people behave better if the best option is highlighted, but not forced upon them. Linking that with the eyes grabs peoples’ attention, and makes that nudge even more effective.
It’s a followup to a 2006 study where similar posters were hung up in a communal tea room, by the honesty box. Subjects were found to pay up nearly three times as much cash when stared at by eyes, rather than flowers. Luckily, we’re far too honest to need one of these posters in the Wired offices.
But researchers wanted to know whether the same tactic would work outside the workplace, and would extend to other forms of cooperation. The successful cafe experiment is the first step, but the researchers have even more ambitious plans.
“Painting a pair of eyes on a wall may be useful for preventing antisocial behavior in quiet locations,” says Dr. Bateson. And, “if signs for CCTV cameras used pictures of eyes instead of cameras they could be more effective.”