Monday, September 19, 2016

Big Brother is watching you - but you don't take any notice

Remember this poster? I came across it on a bright January day this year when I visited Rothwell.

I thought of it when I read this post on the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog:
Imagine there was an honesty box in your coffee room at work, do you think it would make any difference to your behaviour if there was poster of staring eyes on the wall? 
A hugely influential study published in 2006 suggested that it would – that feeling watched, even by a picture of eyes rather than an actual person, increases people’s honesty. In fact, in the study, donations to the box were an average three-fold larger in the presence of an eye poster rather than a picture of flowers. 
The finding even inspired the West Midlands Police in the UK to launch a poster campaign featuring staring eyes and the strapline “We’ve got our eyes on criminals”.
I suspect this study also inspired the poster I photographed in Rothwell.

Trouble is, attempts to replicate the 2006 study have failed. Not only that. As the Research Digest says:
two meta-analyses combined the data from over 50 studies involving collectively tens of thousands of participants and found no evidence overall that watching eyes boost people’s generosity.
So not only was that poster distasteful in its use of Big Brother imagery, it may well have beeen ineffective at changing behaviour too.

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