Researchers: printing eyes on items reduces littering

Researchers at Newcastle University have found that leaflets with eyes printed on them were discarded as litter far less frequently than a leaflet printed without eyes. The reason is likely due to human nature — we're more conscious of our actions and more likely to behave according to social rules and norms if we know others — and, apparently, pieces of paper — are watching us.

The project was led by Professor Daniel Nettle and Professor Melissa Bateson, and it found that the presence of eyes can result in so-called "co-operative behavior" among humans due to their feeling as if they're being watched. In this case, 4.7-percent of leaflets with eyes were tossed away as litter, while 15.6-percent of leaflets without eyes were littered.

Printing eyes on items can have a positive effect on more than just littering. A previous study, for example, found that bike thefts decreased by 62-percent when an anti-theft sign featuring stern eyes was positioned near bike racks. Not surprisingly, the positive effect from printed eyes is most apparent in situations where individuals are isolated, as being in public will naturally have the same effect since other people are present.

The question now is whether this effect will be remain if eyes are printed on items that are commonly littered, such as fast food wrappers and cans.

Said Bateson:

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. 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.

SOURCE: Neuroscience News