Eyes, More Than Other Facial Features, Enhance Real-World Donation Behavior

Abstract

Humans often behave more prosocially when being observed in person and even in response to subtle eye cues, purportedly to manage their reputation. Previous research on this phenomenon has employed the “watching eyes paradigm,” in which adults displayed greater prosocial behavior in the presence of images of eyes versus inanimate objects. However, the robustness of the effect of eyes on prosocial behavior has recently been called into question. Therefore, the first goal of the present study was to attempt to replicate this effect. Additionally, it remains unclear whether the watching-eyes effect is driven specifically by reputation management (owing to the monitoring function of the eyes) or whether any cues indexing human presence more generally also have a similar effect. To address these questions, the current study compared prosocial behavior in the presence of eyes versus inanimate objects as well as other human features. The study was conducted as a field experiment at a children’s museum. Each week, the donation signs were changed to show eyes, noses, mouths, or chairs. Total donation amount and number of patrons per week were recorded. Participants donated more when they were exposed to eyes than to inanimate objects (chairs). We thus replicated the previously reported watching-eyes effect. Moreover, more money was donated when individuals were exposed to eyes than to more general cues of human presence (nose and mouth). The current findings suggest that eyes play a special role in promoting cooperation in humans, likely by serving as cues of monitoring and thus eliciting reputation management behavior.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Change history

  • 15 November 2018

    In Fig. 2 of the aforementioned article the mean value of the “chair” condition is incorrectly displayed as 0.011 when it should be 0.008. All statistics in the text are correct, and the conclusions remain the same.

Notes

  1. 1.

    All of our results held when we used a one-way ANOVA with bootstrapping (10,000 replications) and performed post-hoc analyses with a Bonferroni correction.

  2. 2.

    This analysis had an unequal number of cells: 14 in Nose + Mouth pooled vs. 7 in the Eyes condition. We therefore also conducted a nonparametric test, which revealed a very similar result: Mann-Whitney U = 18.00, p = .020).

References

  1. Andreoni, J., & Petrie, R. (2004). Public goods experiments without confidentiality: A glimpse into fund-raising. Journal of Public Economics, 88(7), 1605–1623.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Baillon, A., Selim, A., & Van Dolder, D. (2013). On the social nature of eyes: The effect of social cues in interaction and individual choice tasks. Evolution and Human Behavior, 34(2), 146–154.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Bateson, M., Nettle, D., & Roberts, G. (2006). Cues of being watched enhance cooperation in a real-world setting. Biology Letters, 2(3), 412–414.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bateson, M., Callow, L., Holmes, J. R., Roche, M. L. R., & Nettle, D. (2013). Do images of “watching eyes” induce behaviour that is more pro-social or more normative? A field experiment on littering. PLoS One, 8(12), e82055.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Brodeur, M. B., Guérard, K., & Bouras, M. (2014). Bank of Standardized Stimuli (BOSS) phase II: 930 new normative photos. PLoS One, 9(9), e106953.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Bull, R., & Gibson-Robinson, E. (1981). The influences of eye-gaze, style of dress, and locality on the amounts of money donated to a charity. Human Relations, 34(10), 895–905.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Burnham, T. C., & Hare, B. (2007). Engineering human cooperation: Does involuntary neural activation increase public goods contributions? Human Nature, 18, 88–108.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Carbon, C. C., & Hesslinger, V. M. (2011). Bateson et al.'s (2006) cues-of-being-watched paradigm revisited. Swiss Journal of Psychology, 70, 203–210.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Ebner, N. C., Riediger, M., & Lindenberger, U. (2010). FACES—A database of facial expressions in young, middle-aged, and older women and men: Development and validation. Behavior Research Methods, 42(1), 351–362.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Ekström, M. (2012). Do watching eyes affect charitable giving? Evidence from a field experiment. Experimental Economics, 15(3), 530–546.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Engelmann, J. M., Herrmann, E., & Tomasello, M. (2012). Five-year olds, but not chimpanzees, attempt to manage their reputations. PLoS One, 7(10), e48433.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Ernest-Jones, M., Nettle, D., & Bateson, M. (2011). Effects of eye images on everyday cooperative behavior: A field experiment. Evolution and Human Behavior, 32(3), 172–178.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Farroni, T., Csibra, G., Simion, F., & Johnson, M. H. (2002). Eye contact detection in humans from birth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99(14), 9602–9605.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Farroni, T., Johnson, M. H., Menon, E., Zulian, L., Faraguna, D., & Csibra, G. (2005). Newborns' preference for face-relevant stimuli: Effects of contrast polarity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102(47), 17245–17250.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Fathi, M., Bateson, M., & Nettle, D. (2014). Effects of watching eyes and norm cues on charitable giving in a surreptitious behavioral experiment. Evolutionary Psychology, 12(5), 878–887.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Fehr, E., & Gächter, S. (2002). Altruistic punishment in humans. Nature, 415(6868), 137–140.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Fehr, E., & Schneider, F. (2010). Eyes are on us, but nobody cares: Are eye cues relevant for strong reciprocity? Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 277(1686), 1315–1323.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. Garden City: Doubleday.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Grossmann, T. (2017). The eyes as windows into other minds: An integrative perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 12, 107–121.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Haley, K. J., & Fessler, D. M. (2005). Nobody's watching? Subtle cues affect generosity in an anonymous economic game. Evolution and Human Behavior, 26(3), 245–256.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Hare, B. (2017). Survival of the friendliest: Homo sapiens evolved via selection for prosociality. Annual Review of Psychology, 68, 155–186.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Keil, M. S. (2009). “I look in your eyes, honey”: Internal face features induce spatial frequency preference for human face processing. PLoS Computational Biology, 5(3), e1000329.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Keller, J., & Pfattheicher, S. (2011). Vigilant self-regulation, cues of being watched and cooperativeness. European Journal of Personality, 25(5), 363–372.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Kurzban, R. (2001). The social psychophysics of cooperation: Nonverbal communication in a public goods game. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 25(4), 241–259.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Lamba, S., & Mace, R. (2010). People recognise when they are really anonymous in an economic game. Evolution and Human Behavior, 31(4), 271–278.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Leimgruber, K. L., Shaw, A., Santos, L. R., & Olson, K. R. (2012). Young children are more generous when others are aware of their actions. PLoS One, 7(10), e48292.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Manesi, Z., & Pollet, T. V. (2017). No support for the watching eyes effect across three "lost letter" field experiments. Letters on Evolutionary Behavioral Science, 8(1), 12–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Manesi, Z., Van Lange, P. A., & Pollet, T. V. (2016). Eyes wide open: Only eyes that pay attention promote prosocial behavior. Evolutionary Psychology, 14(2), 1–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Matsugasaki, K., Tsukamoto, W., & Ohtsubo, Y. (2015). Two failed replications of the watching eyes effect. Letters on Evolutionary Behavioral Science, 6(2), 17–20.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Milinski, M., Semmann, D., & Krambeck, H. (2002). Reputation helps solve the “tragedy of the commons.” Nature, 415(6870), 424–426.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Nettle, D., Nott, K., & Bateson, M. (2012). ‘Cycle thieves, we are watching you’: Impact of a simple signage intervention against bicycle theft. PLoS One, 7(12), e51738.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Nettle, D., Harper, Z., Kidson, A., Stone, R., Penton-Voak, I. S., & Bateson, M. (2013). The watching eyes effect in the dictator game: it's not how much you give, it's being seen to give something. Evolution and Human Behavior, 34(1), 35–40.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Northover, S. B., Pedersen, W. C., Cohen, A. B., & Andrews, P. W. (2017). Artificial surveillance cues do not increase generosity: Two meta-analyses. Evolution and Human Behavior, 38(1), 144–153.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Nosek, B. A., Alter, G., Banks, G. C., Borsboom, D., Bowman, S., Breckler, S., et al. (2015). Promoting an open research culture. Science, 348(6242), 1422–1425.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Oda, R., Niwa, Y., Honma, A., & Hiraishi, K. (2011). An eye-like painting enhances the expectation of a good reputation. Evolution and Human Behavior, 32(3), 166–171.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Panagopoulos, C. (2014a). I've got my eyes on you: Implicit social pressure cues and prosocial behavior. Political Psychology, 35, 23–33.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Panagopoulos, C. (2014b). Watchful eyes: Implicit observability cues and voting. Evolution and Human Behavior, 35, 279–284.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Powell, K. L., Roberts, G., & Nettle, D. (2012). Eye images increase charitable donations: Evidence from an opportunistic field experiment in a supermarket. Ethology, 118(11), 1096–1101.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Saunders, T. J., Taylor, A. H., & Atkinson, Q. D. (2016). No evidence that a range of artificial monitoring cues influence online donations to charity in an MTurk sample. Royal Society Open Science, 3, 150710.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Sparks, A., & Barclay, P. (2013). Eye images increase generosity, but not for long: The limited effect of a false cue. Evolution and Human Behavior, 34(5), 317–322.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Sparks, A., & Barclay, P. (2015). No effect on condemnation of short or long exposure to eye images. Letters on Evolutionary Behavioral Science, 6(2), 13–16.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. US Census Bureau. (2016). State and county QuickFacts: Charlottesville, Virginia. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/charlottesvillecityvirginiacounty/PST045216.

  43. Vaish, A., Kelsey, C. M., Tripathi, A., & Grossmann, T. (2017). Attentiveness to eyes predicts generosity in a reputation-relevant context. Evolution and Human Behavior, 38(6), 729–733.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Vogt, S., Efferson, C., Berger, J., & Fehr, E. (2015). Eye spots do not increase altruism in children. Evolution and Human Behavior, 36(3), 224–231.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Wedekind, C., & Milinski, M. (2000). Cooperation through image scoring in humans. Science, 288(5467), 850–852.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

We are extremely grateful to the Virginia Discovery Museum in Charlottesville, VA, and in particular to Kaitlin Clear German for all her assistance with data collection. In addition, we would like to thank Janine Oostenbroek and Katie Krol for helpful discussions and comments on the manuscript.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Amrisha Vaish.

Electronic supplementary material

ESM 1

(PDF 207 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Kelsey, C., Vaish, A. & Grossmann, T. Eyes, More Than Other Facial Features, Enhance Real-World Donation Behavior. Hum Nat 29, 390–401 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-018-9327-1

Download citation

Keywords

  • Cooperation
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Reputation
  • Watching-eyes effect