Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop


Forgot your password?

'Big Brother' Eyes Make Us Act More Honestly 399

dylanduck quotes a article that says "We all know the scene: the coffee room with the 'honesty box' where you pay for your drinks — or not, because no one is watching. But researchers have discovered that merely a picture of watching eyes trebled the amount of money paid." That's a pretty deep-rooted fear of getting caught, which could be useful for crime prevention perhaps. But whose eyes?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

'Big Brother' Eyes Make Us Act More Honestly

Comments Filter:
  • wow. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by professorhojo ( 686761 ) * on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:41AM (#15620031)
    straight out of 1984.

    if you're not doing anything wrong, why should you mind being watched?
    • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:50AM (#15620088) Journal
      I think the important thing here is the possibility that these eyes could be giving the coffee fund a human feature.

      It's entirely possible that the people who were just taking coffee before thought the coffee fund to be more of a faceless corporate operation run by management at their company. Perhaps they thought they weren't paid enough and so it was 'ok' to take coffee.

      They didn't feel like they were doing something wrong because they could easily justify their free coffee--plus it made them work harder! Even better for the company providing it.

      If you look at the eyes, they look very concerned and hurt. I think that this probably triggered emotions of the coffee fund being an employee thing and you weren't taking coffee from the company but your fellow man. That's why this is interesting and that's why I don't think that the people who were taking coffee ever thought they were really doing something wrong.
    • Giving it a second thought, and assuming (oh so absurdly assuming) whoever's watching only wants to check for what he's supposed to be checking... WHY would you mind being watched in a public place ?
    • Re:wow. (Score:5, Funny)

      by egjertse ( 197141 ) <`gro.ttuf' `ta' `todhsals'> on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:57AM (#15620146) Homepage
      Wether or not you're doing anything wrong - why would you mind a picture of a pair of eyes watching you? I'm as obsessive about privacy as the next guy, but seriously...
    • Honesty Box (Score:5, Funny)

      by frankyfranky ( 984895 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @09:11AM (#15620239)
      We all know the scene: the coffee room with the "honesty box" where you pay for your drinks - or not, because no one is watching.

      I hardly ever pay for my drinks in regular coffee shops so why would I start paying in some honesty box?

      We all know the scene, you go into the starbucks and order the double. Before paying you pretend you have to run to the washroom. When you get back the coffee is waiting for you so you snatch it and run out the door screaming "rape." Or you can just live here in Japan where some places you pay after you drink. In that case you pretend to go to the washroom after you finish your coffee and simply climb* out the window (shouting "rape").

      * Note: There might be a bit of a fall if the shop is on the third floor**.
      ** This may or may not have been learned through experience.
      • by Eljas ( 911123 )

        Or you can just live here in Japan where some places you pay after you drink. In that case you pretend to go to the washroom after you finish your coffee and simply climb* out the window (shouting "rape").

        Considering you live in Japan, shouldn't that be "teentacle wape"?

    • Re:wow. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by andrewman327 ( 635952 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @09:31AM (#15620389) Homepage Journal
      "if you're not doing anything wrong, why should you mind being watched?"

      But people are not being watched. They only feel like they are. Important distinction.

    • Re:wow. (Score:5, Funny)

      by Dr_LHA ( 30754 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @09:50AM (#15620533) Homepage
      straight out of 1984.

      Err.... Exactly, that's why they used to the "Big Brother". Thanks for pointing out that comparison for those of us idiots who though Big Brother was just a TV show though.

    • Re:wow. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by u-235-sentinel ( 594077 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @10:10AM (#15620695) Homepage Journal
      straight out of 1984.

      if you're not doing anything wrong, why should you mind being watched?

      This is why I feel the Government should be very careful with this line of thought. I turn it right back on them. If the Government isn't doing anything wrong then why should they mind us watching them.

      Democracy in action.
    • the thing about big brother was that you could see the face of the person watching you so you knew you were being watched...

      but CCTV is just a camera and you don't know if anyone is paying attention

      speaking of which there is a neat google hack that you can look at unsecured video cameras around the world. most of this are just public web cams people setup. most are in Japan or in Europe and even some of them have movable cameras ewerFrame%3FMode%3D%22 []
    • Re:wow. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by radtea ( 464814 )
      if you're not doing anything wrong, why should you mind being watched?

      What a weird question.

      "If you aren't doing anything wrong, why should you mind being hit on the head?"

      The reasons why being watched bothers us is built deeply into our monkey brains. Most chimpanzees, most of the time, need some privacy. So do most humans. If this were not the case, we wouldn't have stalls in public toilets and the like.

      Beyond that, of course, is the kind of answer you're trolling for, which is so obvious and has been
  • Maybe.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by ReidMaynard ( 161608 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:41AM (#15620034) Homepage
    Maybe flowers make you pay less?
    • Re:Maybe.. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by penguinoid ( 724646 )
      Maybe flowers make you pay less?

      Quite. Flowers generally signify gifts. The researchers should have used a neutral figure for their control.
  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:42AM (#15620040) Journal
    I'm not surprised by this at all.

    I once was very good friends with a card shop owner. In the back two corners of his store, he had two very huge obtrusive obnoxious surveillance cameras angled into the store. I had been in the back of the store to play cards with him every now and then and had never seen any television sets. So I asked him one day where the feeds went on his cameras so that he could catch people shoplifting. He just laughed and told me that the feeds didn't need to go anywhere. And if I looked closer, those cameras were fake.

    I would suspect that anything symbolizing or triggering our mind to think of surveillance would cause us to be more honest. It would be interesting to instead of eyes use pictures of surveillance cameras pointed at the coffee. Or, perhaps simply the words, "We are watching you!" I mean, it's only natural for us to react to what we see.
    • by TripMaster Monkey ( 862126 ) * on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:48AM (#15620077)

      The fake camera [] gag has been around for quite a while....proof that it works.

      What's surprising, however, is that a mere picture of watching eyes also works, despite the fact that no person could have possibly thought the eyes were real.
    • Some fake cameras are easy to spot and pro theives are quick to spot them. If you want to be effective, either put up real cameras or use dummy cameras from the manufacture of real cameras. A warped painted lens is a dead giveaway of a dummy. A Sanyo dummy using a real camera case, lens, and cables is the twin of the real camera except the guts are missing.

      Here is what a real Sanyo dummy camera looks like. It even takes real lenses. []
    • by dr_dank ( 472072 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @09:13AM (#15620250) Homepage Journal
      I never thought the fake cameras were a good idea. A jewelery store owner not too far from where I grew up was held up/burgled several times over a period of about ten years. After the first time or two, he installed a couple of those fake cameras as a deterrent. When he got held up for real, he had to convince the angry man with the finger on the trigger of the gun pointed at his head that the cameras were fake and there weren't any tapes to hand over. If the robber didn't buy it, who knows what would have happened.
      • Possible solution: pay for a nice fat ADSL line and stream the video, in realtime, to a server located in a different state.

        "Sorry dude, your pictures are in Texas by now. Put the gun down and walk out and we won't prosecute, but you could nuke the entire block and you wouldn't get rid of that footage."

        Or just claim you've done that. Might work, might not.
        • by Neoprofin ( 871029 ) <> on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @12:13PM (#15621734)
          That activates the "shoot the smug, annoying, unarmed man" reaction.
          • You could always just hold two blank videotapes under the counter, perhaps in a cheap VCR to satisfy the criminal. It'd be a good way to hold on to the real tapes in the back room if the guy ever gets real cameras too. Petty criminals aren't the smartest people around....
        • If someone is holding you up at gunpoint trying to rob you, it's a sign that they are probably not thinking rationally. Disregarding the ethics involved, holding someone up in a store is a stupid thing to do because there is a good chance that the robber will be either aprehended or shot by the clerk, and a lot of places lock money up in a safe that can only be opened at certain times, etc. The fact is that if someone wants to steal money, there are was that have larger payoffs with less likelyhood of get
    • A lot of big box stores do similar things. Look up at the cieling of your friendly local neighborhood Wal-Mart sometime. You'll see those black camera domes sticking down about every 20 feet or so.

      I did an estimate once, and in the Super Wal-Mart in my area, there would have literally been hundreds of cameras. While perhaps they're all real (if anyone would take surveillance to that obsessive a level, it would be Wally World), they don't all need to be. They could just have 25% or 50% of them actually set u
  • by pimpimpim ( 811140 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:42AM (#15620043)
    Just so everyone will flush and wash their hands!
  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <> on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:43AM (#15620051)
    Is fear of getting caught a worse human trait than the tendency to be dishonest?

    I'd like to think the better of my fellow man, but this story just tells me that I'm probably not being honest with myself.
    • Fear of getting caught is something that is socialized into people. If there's no penalty, why would you be afraid of getting caught?

      Children figure this out right quick, when they discover that their parents will not follow through with threatened punishments.

      Also, a lot of the time, people are dishonest because they know they won't get caught in the lie.
    • Shame is a good thing. It's in many cases the only thing that prevents us from being absolute rapacious monsters to each other. I'd put dishonesty as a far, far worse trait than fear of getting caught, which is a healthy and necessary thing.
  • by TripMaster Monkey ( 862126 ) * on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:45AM (#15620060)

    Here's [] a picture suitable for posting on your refrigerator, to aid with dieting efforts. It combines the 'watching eyes' effect with the 'I'm gonna hurl' effect to maximize effect.
  • by awing0 ( 545366 ) <adam&badtech,org> on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:46AM (#15620069) Homepage
    I always pay up at the coffee pot, for I fear one day there won't be any! Then I'll be out $2 a cup from $LOCAL_CHAIN. Don't bite the hand that caffeinates you!
    • by The Creator ( 4611 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @09:52AM (#15620557) Homepage Journal
      "I always pay up at the coffee pot, for I fear one day there won't be any! Then I'll be out $2 a cup from $LOCAL_CHAIN. Don't bite the hand that caffeinates you!"


    • I always pay up at the coffee pot, for I fear one day there won't be any!

      Indeed, most people are this honest. That's not just a gut feeling either. According to an extensive study cited in the book Freakanomics done with the help of bagel salesmen Feldman who would leave bagels with a locked donation box next to them in many office buildings, and have a sign asking for a dollar, roughly 89% of office workers would pay up. 89% is not bad at all for payment when no one is watching. Their detailed analysis
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Ever heard of a Wank Séance? Big Brother ain't got nothing on dead ancestors, when it comes to guilt. Anyway...

    I used to work in a store, and tried the ol' "leave a fake dollar bill" joke on people once in a while, their reactions were both interesting and hilarious. It seemed that no one would pick it up when left within our view. If it was in front of the cash register, they wouldn't reach down and grab it straight out. They would linger around it for a while, investigating it. Very funny. Now
  • by Ruins ( 981807 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:49AM (#15620082)
    A single eye, composed of orange flames, sitting atop a tall tower, emitting a large beam of light, like a lighthouse, should work pretty well.

    Then again, it didn't work out too well the last time someone tried it.
    • The last one who tried it was a hobbit. Possibly that is why he got lucky. It was rumoured to work VERY WELL ON HUMANS.
      Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
      Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
      Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
      One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
      In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
      One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
      One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
      In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
    • by mooingyak ( 720677 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @09:49AM (#15620520)
      Who exactly stole coffee from Sauron?

      I think it worked just fine.
  • Panopticon (Score:5, Interesting)

    by alnya ( 513364 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:52AM (#15620109)
    Kind of a similar theory presented in the Panopticon (

    The illusion of surveillance is as powerful as surveillance itself.
  • Cat's eyes (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:53AM (#15620118) []

    I wonder if the effect is the same with cat's eyes ...
  • by ezratrumpet ( 937206 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:53AM (#15620122) Journal
    There's a pretty common thread in ethics training that goes something like this: your character is determined by what you do when no one is watching.

    I'm not sure if that's right or wrong, but the picture of the watching eyes is apparently a powerful prompt to pay for the drinks. It's a reminder that someone could be watching (but isn't), so what will you do?

    It's also possible that the 'tripling effect' results from the people who think "Oh, I'll pay it later" actually remembering to pay rather than the people who never pay actually turning over a new leaf.
  • Whose eyes? (Score:5, Funny)

    by pyite ( 140350 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:56AM (#15620141)
    Those of TJ Eckleburg, of course.

  • by LaughingCoder ( 914424 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:56AM (#15620143)
    It's interesting how just the image of human eyes "humanizes" the coffee fund. I was chatting with a professor friend who was complaining about how most of the boys in his classes wear baseball caps that prevent him from seeing most of their face, including their eyes. He felt that even subconsciously this affected their grades in a negative way. It bothered him that he didn't really know them. In fact he joked that mostly he knew their hats --- "the kid with the red hat with the black bill seems pretty good at derivatives."
  • Glass eye (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @08:56AM (#15620145)
    My dad lost an eye in WWII. He was a farmer in Kenya after the war, and would sometimes 'pop' his eye and leave it on a post to keep farm workers from slacking off. It worked well, until they figured out they just needed to put a hat over the eye.
  • by mrmeval ( 662166 )
    Wad the money up and dump it in. Coffee Wants To Be Free!
  • Why Stop At Eyes? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Baby Duck ( 176251 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @09:00AM (#15620159) Homepage
    Let's put up more signs, straight out of the movie Brazil, They Live, and other fine sources:



  • Replacing God (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ttys00 ( 235472 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @09:05AM (#15620191)
    This is one thing that the concept of God used to be used for - the all seeing eye that made some people act (somewhat) honestly. Now that religion is on the wane in parts of the world, a replacement all seeing eye will be needed to keep the same class of people in line.
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @09:05AM (#15620192) Homepage Journal
    In related news, researchers discover xeyes to be an effective treatment for Internet porn addiction.
  • I swear, if shops actually start putting up posters like that, it will make me flip the blithering fuck out (particularly, if retail chains try to prevent theft by sticking them in the bathroom). It's just far, far too Orwellian.... This is one of those studies that needs to be kept hush-hush.
  • Seriously, no one has mentioned this yet? That's part of the point of the old optomotrist sign in the novel...the theme of watching and being watched.
  • by The_REAL_DZA ( 731082 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @09:18AM (#15620281)
    Looked at the back of a dollar bill [] lately?

  • Change the headline a little

    "Big Brother eyes make the U.S. govt act more honestly" :)
  • disHonesty Box (Score:3, Insightful)

    by digitaldc ( 879047 ) * on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @09:18AM (#15620283)
    The purpose of an honesty box is to have it out there for honest people.

    Maybe people can't pay for coffee because they don't have the cash on hand, and they will pay later.

    What good does a camera do if someone makes off with free coffee? Embarass the offender?

    Having a big-brother camera operation pre-supposes that people, if not scrutinized, will most likely do the wrong thing.

    Or, maybe it is just better to get a pay coffee machine?
  • This is a Slashdot dupe of a New Scientist dupe. The originals (Slashdot post and New Scientist article) were out in March 2005. .html []
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @09:25AM (#15620338) Homepage Journal
    I think it's pretty well established that people are more honest when they're being watched ;-).

    What's interesting is that this suggests that it is one of those atavistic behaviors that happen below the conscious level. People often do more rationalization than action to suppport their self-image as honest, hard working folk.

    Once I saw a cop make a good point in a talk about self-defense. Sure, if the mugger asks for your wallet, you give it to him. But the point where you must try to escape or fight is when he tells you to step off the sidewalk into the alley: he wants privacy to do something that he's not comfortable doing where he might be seen.

    As an American, I value my privacy. But there is more than one way to run a society with respect to privacy. In some cultures, bathing or even crapping can be a communal activity. I can well imagine a "Goldfish Bowl" society in which everything anybody does is witnessed by everybody else. It would probably be the most virtuous society in history. The reason that tyranny immediate leaps to mind is that nobody ever proposes anything that radical. What they propose is that privacy be considered important in most cases (including their privacy), but not in yours. Like a mugger, they want privacy for themselves so they can do things to you. They want exposure for you so you can't do things back.

    The lesson is that when your government wants to watch you but doesn't want you watching back, beware.

  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @09:26AM (#15620347)
    Since Big Brotheresque things are associated with arbitrary abuse by seemingly unaccountable authorities who are also unaccountable if they retaliate later, people get afraid. How many human resources departments have written a person up for saying something that got taken the wrong way by a thin-skinned person? Look at how shop-lifting by young teens is treated. Do it 25 years ago and it's a sound whack on the wrist. Today, it ruins your future no matter if you go into the army and become a decorated war hero serving on the front lines.

    And the GOVERNMENT side of Big Brother has left more "little brothers" dead than all religious organizations and private corporations combined.

    So yeah, it doesn't a rocket scientists to figure out why in the modern world Big Brother is considered scary. In fact, I would consider it a form of psychotic detatchment from reality to be comfortable with him.
  • I suspect the person in charge of this project needs a pair of eyes printed on his reminder to fill out all the paperwork to get research with human subjects approved.
  • by Fëanáro ( 130986 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @09:33AM (#15620402)
    Humans are hardwired to focus on faces, or even just eyes.
    Maybe the eyes were just more noticeable than a less "eye-catching" textual reminder to pay?
    So the eyes made it less likely to forget the payment, but not because of guilt or fear, and a blinking light next to the notice would have the same effect?
  • Clerks (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jkmullins ( 643492 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @09:40AM (#15620448) Homepage
    Like Dante said in Clerks: "People see money on the counter and no one around, they think they're being watched."

  • But whose eyes?

    Easy, Dr. T.J. Eckleburg's []! Next question...?

  • Mmm... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @09:46AM (#15620491) Homepage Journal
    They've started putting radar boxes up on streets near where I live. These things tell you how fast you're going but don't seem to be hooked up to a camera anywhere. The speed limit along most of those roads is 35 or occasionally 25 and people routinely used to do 45 - 55 or faster along them. Since these boxes went up it's rare to see anyone speeding through there. And you'll see someone do a jackrabbit start from the lights and then hit their brakes a few seconds later when the box flashes at them to slow down. I've been expecting people to become desensitized to them eventually but 3 months in it's still rare to see anyone speeding once they pass that box.

    I suspect that these things will be removed once the various local governments realize they're affecting ticket revenues.

  • by 0xdeadbeef ( 28836 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @09:48AM (#15620517) Homepage Journal
    Which is exactly why government secrecy is so dangerous. The lack of oversight breeds corruption. There is no difference in the bureaucrat and the petty criminal in this regard, because human nature is universal.

    Of course, you won't hear those big brother loving law-n-order types say that.
  • Think that's bad? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by deanj ( 519759 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @09:52AM (#15620549)
    It's funny how people think this is "so bad" when something worse has been going on for a very long time now.

    The novel "1984" also featured "Newspeak", which they used to try and get rid of all "undesirable" words and concepts. Bad? Nope... "Ungood".

    That's been going on for years now with people trying to force everyone else to be "politically correct" when they speak.
  • Mod me up! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Nuffsaid ( 855987 ) on Wednesday June 28, 2006 @10:03AM (#15620637)
    Pleeease! I'm victim of a cruel lameness filter!
    ___   ___
    /   \ /   \
    | O | | O |
    \__/  \__/

Nondeterminism means never having to say you are wrong.