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Photos of eyes may discourage litterbugs: study


Washington :Printing ‘watchful’ eyes on packaging could discourage people from littering, according to a new study which found that an image of watching eyes reduced the odds of littering by around two thirds.

In an experiment that could help tackle anti-social behaviour, researchers printed two leaflets, one featuring a prominent image of watching eyes and the same leaflet with the eyes obscured. Even with no mention of littering, the simple image of the eyes deterred people from dropping the litter.

The researchers showed that just 4.7 per cent of people dropped the leaflet with eyes compared to 15.6 per cent of the control leaflets.

“Our work shows that the presence of eye images can encourage co-operative behaviour and we think this is because people feel they are being watched,” said Daniel Nettle of the Centre for Behaviour and Evolution at the Newcastle University in UK.

“As we care what other people think about us, we behave better and more honestly when we feel we are being observed,” said Nettle, who led the research along with Melissa Bateson, also of Newcastle University.

“This is reinforced by our results as we show that we didn’t need to include a message about littering, people know it is antisocial so it was enough to have an image of the eyes,” Nettle said.

The leaflets, which featured stern male eyes, urged cyclists to ‘Beware of bike thieves’ and ‘Lock your bike.’
This work builds on previous studies including results from 2013 when the academics used the eye pictures combined with a short anti-theft message which reduced thefts from bike racks by 62 per cent.

This has gone on to be successfully used by the university, the British Transport Police and by police forces across the country including Northumbria and Durham, researchers said.

A second experiment found that the effect was only present when there were no other people in the immediate vicinity as when other people are present you are less likely to behave in an anti-social manner.

“In the fight against anti-social littering, this study could be a real help. Fast food retailers might want to think about using it on packaging to discourage people discarding the wrappers,” Bateson said.

“The flip side is, for those handing out leaflets, it could help people take in the messages are they are less likely to throw away a flyer with eyes on,” she said.

The study is based on the theory of ‘nudge psychology’ which suggests that people may behave better if the best option in a given situation is highlighted for them, but all other options are still left open, so the person is not forced into one particular action. In effect you ‘nudge’ people into doing the right thing. The study was published in the journal PeerJ.


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