Signs To Keep Them Honest

Is there anything you can do to inspire people to pay up when they’re not being monitored?


Well, you might start by painting some eyes in the vicinity.

In one study, University of Newcastle researchers Melissa Bateson, Daniel Nettle and Gilbert Roberts kept their eyes on an honesty box in a university lunch room. As faculty well knew, and as a sign reminded them, the thirsty were to drop in a certain amount of money for tea (30p), coffee (50p) and milk (10p.) In some weeks, the sign featured a 150 x 35 banner festooned with flowers. On alternating weeks, that same banner featured pictures of eyes looking right at the thirsty faces.

What did the researchers find? People paid three times as much for drinks when faced with eyes rather than flowers.

In one follow-up study, a restaurant poster asked patrons to throw away their garbage or, in this case, ‘bin their rubbish.’ Here, again, people were twice as likely to bin their rubbish when faced with a sign bearing eyes rather than flowers.

And, in 2012, researchers Nettle, Bateson and Kenneth Nott put eyes on warning signs to see if they could decrease the number of  university bicycle thefts over a 12 month period. The good news? There was a 62% reduction in bike thefts across the locations with peering eyes. The bad news? Bike thefts increased by 65% across the locations where the signs did not have eyes.

The lesson? The eye signage seems to work – at least in these situations – but it better be everywhere!

Header Photo: Alex Iby



Warding Off Evil


Words For Lockdown

Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton