Eye see you

Dec 09, 2010
Eye see you

Scientists have found a way of deterring litterbugs, in an experiment which could also aid the fight against other anti-social behaviour.

Researchers at Newcastle University alternated hanging posters of staring human faces and posters of flowers on the walls of a cafe.  They then counted the number of who cleaned their plates and rubbish away after finishing their meal in both situations.

In a paper, which is published this week online in the American Оournal Evolution and Human Behavior, the research team, lead by Dr Melissa Bateson and Dr Daniel Nettle of the Centre for Behaviour and Evolution, describe their findings.

During periods when the posters of faces were on the walls, watching over the diners, twice as many people cleaned up, compared to the periods when the pictures of flowers were overlooking the diners, when more litter was left for cafe workers to clear away. 

In a previous study in 2006 the same scientists looked at the impact of images of eyes on contributions to an honesty box in a tea room. They found that people put nearly three times more money in the box when there were eyes compared with flowers.

For this follow-on experiment, psychology student, Max Ernest-Jones, eager to explore whether the honesty box findings would extend to other forms of cooperation, spent many hours sitting inconspicuously in the corner of the café recording customers’ littering behaviour.

Dr Bateson, who led the research, said: “These findings reinforce the conclusion from our previous research, that the presence of images can encourage co-operative behaviour. We think that the images of eyes work by making people feel watched. We care what other people think about us, and hence we behave better when we feel we are being observed.

“We found that the impact of the posters was a lot greater at times when the cafe was quiet. This makes total sense, because we would expect real people to have the greatest effect on the feeling of being watched and hence swamp the effect of the posters during busy times.

“This study has implications for the fight against anti-social behaviour. For example if signs for CCTV cameras used pictures of eyes instead of cameras they could be more effective.”

The study is based on the theory of ‘nudge psychology’ which suggests that people may behave better if the best option in a given situation is highlighted for them, but all other options are still left open, so the person isn’t forced  into one particular action.  In effect you ‘nudge’ people into doing the right thing.

Dr Bateson added: “This study confirms that the display of images of eyes has broad potential as a ‘nudge’, not just because eyes grab attention, but because of more fundamental connections between the feeling of being watched and cooperative behaviour.

“Even painting a pair of eyes on a wall may be useful for preventing anti-social behaviour in quiet locations.”

Explore further: Poll surveys residents of two war-torn African nations

Provided by Newcastle University

5 /5 (11 votes)

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User comments : 5

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sstritt
4 / 5 (4) Dec 09, 2010
Big Brother IS watching
gmurphy
not rated yet Dec 10, 2010
What if everyone starts pasting pictures of eyes up all over the place?, people would become desensitized.
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) Dec 10, 2010
What if everyone starts pasting pictures of eyes up all over the place?, people would become desensitized.


Or simply rebellious against being watched, and leave the teacup on the table.
Burnerjack
1 / 5 (1) Dec 10, 2010
God, the government, your employer, your neighbor are all watching YOU. Makes ya feel kinda important, doesn't it?
Raveon
5 / 5 (3) Dec 10, 2010
How about Hollywood and TV? There was an ad for Chunky a few years ago where a guy is walking along and rips off the wrapper and just tosses it away. Haven't bought another since.

Not related but how about the ads for Twix? Where the guy takes a moment to eat one and think up a lie. Stopped eating them too.

Social pressure is the way to stop anti-social behavior but our legal system does its best to stop all social pressure and substitute the rule of law (the injustice system)