The Illusion of Being Observed Can Make Us a Better Person

#Science

Mon, May 16th, 2011 12:00 by capnasty NEWS

According to Sander van der Linden, in this article in Scientific American, people behave better when they're observed by others. Even more curiously, this remains true if the only "observer" is just an image of a pair of eyes.

A group of scientists at Newcastle University, headed by Melissa Bateson and Daniel Nettle of the Center for Behavior and Evolution, conducted a field experiment demonstrating that merely hanging up posters of staring human eyes is enough to significantly change people's behavior. Over the course of 32 days, the scientists spent many hours recording customer's "littering behavior" in their university's main cafeteria, counting the number of people that cleaned up after themselves after they had finished their meals. In their study, the researchers determined the effect of the eyes on individual behavior by controlling for several conditions (e.g. posters with a corresponding verbal text, without any text, male versus female faces, posters of something unrelated like flowers, etc). The posters were hung at eye-level and every day the location of each poster was randomly determined. The researchers found that during periods when the posters of eyes, instead of flowers, overlooked the diners, twice as many people cleaned up after themselves.

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