People Donate More When They Sense They Are Being Watched

Everybody wants to be caught doing something good. University of Virginia researchers collected data from more than 34,000 adults and children who visited a children’s museum over 28 weeks. All participants passed the same permanent, transparent donation box near the check-in desk of the museum. There was a regular, plain sign on the box that read: “Donations would be appreciated,” but during the weeks of data collection, the sign was randomly replaced by one of four signs that contained the same words, but also pictured either pairs of noses, eyes, ears, or chairs. On average, people tended to donate more when the sign featured two pairs of eyes– about $0.01 more– which adds up to an increase of about $12 per week. Study author Caroline Kelsey adds, “The presence of eyes enhances people’s reputational concern and motivates them to engage in self-presentational behaviors. This is in line with the notion that cues to being watched result in reputation management behaviors.”