Status: Strange experiment
described in a recent issue of the journal Biology Letters
reveals a simple way to make people behave more honestly: display a picture of watching eyes. Melissa Bateson
, a biologist at Newcastle University, conducted the experiment on her colleagues, without their knowledge, using the communal coffee pot in the departmental lounge as the set-up. She found that when she placed a picture of a pair of beady eyes above the coffee pot, contributions to the 'honesty box' (the box in which people are supposed to deposit money to pay for the coffee they've drunk) were three times higher than when she displayed a picture of flowers. Bateson explains that
The effect may arise from behavioural traits that developed as early humans formed social groups that bolstered their chances of survival. For social groups to work individuals had to co-operate for the good of the group, rather than act selfishly. "There's an argument that if nobody is watching us it is in our interests to behave selfishly. But when we think we're being watched we should behave better, so people see us as co-operative and behave the same way towards us," Dr Bateson said.
In other words, we behave better if we think we're being watched, even if we're only being watched by fake eyes. It could be named the 'Big Brother Is Watching You' effect.