Thursday, June 29, 2006

Watchful eyes

Neat experiment, with amazing results:

Melissa Bateson and colleagues at Newcastle University, UK, put up new price lists each week in their psychology department coffee room. Prices were unchanged, but each week there was a photocopied picture at the top of the list, measuring 15 by 3 centimetres, of either flowers or the eyes of real faces. The faces varied but the eyes always looked directly at the observer.

In weeks with eyes on the list, staff paid 2.76 times as much for their drinks as in weeks with flowers. “Frankly we were staggered by the size of the effect,” Gilbert Roberts, one of the researchers, told New Scientist.


  1. Anonymous said...

    a curious case of the rule of the law and the "internal law" (dharma) of a man merging together to make you pay for your coffee!

  2. Anonymous said...

    Check also Kismet Affect, for example:
    There is a different kind of story in "Freakonomics" about increase of honest in payment for doughnuts after 9/11.

  3. Abi said...

    Arun: This is a case of Dharma, awakened not by the rule of law, but by photocopy of a pair of eyes looking at you!

    Swarup: The article I linked to in the post mentions the episode about the Kismet effect, and I was looking for a link. Thanks for providing one!

  4. Anonymous said...

    If we have a feeling of somebody watching us we will not make mistakes.

    There is a test called mama test(I read in 'You can Win' by Shiv Kera). If u want to know whether ur action is right or wrong, think that ur mummy is watching u doing it. If u can`t do that action or embrassed for doing it, Then it is wrong.

  5. Anonymous said...

    There are a couple of posts about this in an evolutionary psychology group. I am enclosing one of the posts since you may not be able to access it if you are not a member. Here is the post:
    "This study seems to me to be related to some research carried out by
    Carver and Scheier in support of their application of control theory
    to psychology. They compared perfromance on various tasks when the
    subject had a mirror placed in front of them (so they could see
    their own reflection) and when they only faced a blank wall. Carver
    and Sceier found that performance was greatly enhanced (was more
    meticulous, fewer errors) in the mirror condition. They argued that
    the mirror condition promoted "error sensitivity" by increasing the
    subject's self-awareness. With greater error sensitivity came
    greater attention to detail, etc.

    It could be argued that the eyes in the poster serve the same
    function, because we are (in the end) aware of ourselves through
    other people. So the eyes in the poster would act like the mirror
    reflection and increase error sensitivity, thus promoting honesty
    (not paying is a kind of error).

    Control theory is widely used in engineering (William Powers
    pioneered its use in Psychology in his 1973 book "Behavior: The
    control of perception"). A fairly recent use of the theory has been
    an attempt to integrate disparate theories of depression using
    control theory by Michale Hyland (Psychological Bulletin, 1987)."