The Honesty Experiment

It's no surprise that people are more honest when they know that they're being watched. But what about just reminding them of the idea of being watched, without them actually being watched?

For years, people at the University of Newcastle's Division of Psychology have an honor (or trust) system where they are requested to deposit payment for coffee in an "honesty box." There was a note saying how much they should pay.

In 2006, Melissa Bateson and colleagues decided to do a little experiment: they placed an image above the note. They alternate between two pictures: one week they would use a picture of eyes and the other week, flowers.

After 10 weeks, they plotted the amount of money received versus drinks consumed and found that people paid nearly three times as much for their drinks when eyes were displayed!

Here's the study: Link [PDF] - via Think or Thwim


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Notice that the eyes looking straight forward cause the greatest reactions. The first flower picture from the top made people pay more than the second eye picture. Maybe it's about symmetry or something.
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I think people are reading too much into the significance of the flowers. The way I saw it was, flowers are a generic decoration that you wouldn't associate with the coffee, whereas the eyes make people think "What's with the eyes? Big brother or what? Oh yeah, the coffee..."

Be interesting to repeat this with some method of working out whether more people were paying up, or whether the people who pay were paying more. Maybe a secret camera, but that might defeat the object by validating people's paranoia.
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