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You are being watched...

Submitted by Pat on Fri, 06/30/2006 - 3:01pm

Coffee room drinkers pay more when watched by a pair of “Big Brother” eyes (Image: Newcastle University)

No, I'm not breaking news of a new formerly-confidential intelligence-gathering program by the Bush Administration. I just read Freakonomic's post, Scarecrows Work on People, Too, which reports on a fascinating study reported today in New Scientist.

The study finds, unsurprisingly, that people are more honest when they believe they are being watched. The fascinating bit is that the feeling of being watched is invoked even by photocopied pictures of eyes such as those seen above. In one experiment, they put up a different price list each week in the coffee room of a university psychology department. The prices stayed the same week in and week out, but the picture at the top of the price list alternated between flowers and the eyes (each week was a different set of eyes, but always looking directly ahead). The coffee room works on the honor system; each member chooses to either pay the list price or not, there are no receipts or checks done to see who the cheapskates are.

When the eyes were displayed, collections went up on average 2.76 times as much as the weeks when only flowers were shown. That is a huge effect. The scientists think it will cause a lot of rethinking about previous studies on the nature of human altruism... there may be more naked self-interest (fear of getting caught) going on than was previously realized.

Hmmm.... maybe we should put up a PayPal "contribute" button here at Stubborn Facts with a nice set of eyes floating just above it...

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