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Effects of Watching Eyes and Norm Cues on Charitable Giving in a Surreptitious Behavioral Experiment

Lookup NU author(s): Moe Fathi, Professor Melissa BatesonORCiD, Professor Daniel Nettle



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


A series of experimental studies by multiple groups of researchers have found that displaying images of watching eyes causes people to behave more prosocially. It is not yet clear whether watching eyes increase prosocial motivation per se, or whether they simply make people's behavior more normative. Here, we report results from a surreptitious behavioral experiment examining the impacts of watching eye images and cues to local norms on charitable donations in a controlled setting. Eye images significantly increased average donations. Eye images did not make people conform more closely to the apparent norm overall. Instead, there were different patterns according to the apparent norm. For an apparent norm of small donations, eye images made many participants more generous than the norm. For an apparent norm of large donations, there was an excess of participants giving zero in the no-eyes treatment, which was abolished in the eyes treatment. Our results can be explained by a combination of watching eyes increasing prosocial motivation and reluctance to leave a donation visibly less generous than the norm.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Fathi M, Bateson M, Nettle D

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Evolutionary Psychology

Year: 2014

Volume: 12

Issue: 5

Pages: 878-887

Print publication date: 01/12/2014

Acceptance date: 23/07/2014

Date deposited: 26/08/2015

ISSN (electronic): 1474-7049

Publisher: Evolutionary Psychology


DOI: 10.1177/147470491401200502


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