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EARTHDATE: July 2, 2006

Official News - page 7


In a fascinating experiment, researchers have discovered that the feeling of being watched makes people more honest, even if the eyes watching them are obviously unreal.

A team from the University of Newcastle, in the UK, monitored how much money people put in an "honesty box" when buying a drink from a canteen. They decorated the poster giving the prices with a variety of pictures, and put it at eye level over the honesty box.

They found that people put nearly three times as much in when the poster had a pair of eyes on it, than when it showed flowers. They suggest that the brain responds to images of eyes and faces and therefore the poster may have given the feeling of being watched.

The experiment made use of a long-running honesty box scheme based in a canteen, so presumably those buying drinks didn't realize anything was different - apart from the picture.

Over the course of the 10-week experiment, the team calculated each week the total amount of money collected and the amount of drink likely to have been consumed. The exact result over the life of the experiment was that people paid 2.76 times as much money when the poster featured the eyes, even though it was just a black and white photocopy.

The scientists believe their findings may have applications in efforts to curb anti-social behavior. "It does raise the possibility that you could get people to behave more co-operatively or pro-socially by putting up pictures of eyes," said Dr Bateson. "It would work particularly in instances where people have to make a choice between whether to behave well or badly." Such as CCTV or speed cameras, she suggests.

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