Social scientists have found that we are more conscious of our actions, and therefore behave better, if we have the ‘feeling’ that we are being watched. Numerous academic studies have explored this phenomenon – here is a short overview of what we found out and how hospitals can use it to their benefit using simple images of eyes to change visitor behaviour.
we’re Watching you
That feeling of being watched is uncomfortable – you feel more aware of your surrounding and become more alert. This instinct is ‘gaze detection’ – a chemical alert system built into our brains fires certain brain cells when someone’s staring at you (these don’t get triggered when they’re looking only a few degrees to your left or right). The theoretical basis for this is that predators study and stare at their prey before pouncing. Being alerted that something’s paying particularly close attention to you is a good way to know you’re being hunted.
Watching eyes have been used successfully to reduce petty crime and anti-social behaviour from bike theft to dog fouling to littering. But what about increasing socially positive activities, like handwashing?
Studies around how to affect generosity also show pro-social behaviour significantly increasing with the use of ‘watching eyes’. Research using economic games, honesty boxes and charity giving, found ‘watching eyes’ resulted in a more socially co-operative response rate in each case. A pattern similarly found in research on handwashing.
So why do the eyes work? Alongside the ‘gaze detection’ response is another natural human instinct that increases socially co-operative behaviour: social compliance. Most of us are conscious of our social reputation and perform in a more socially compliant way if we feel we are being observed.
Eyes to improve handwashing compliance
Small changes can make a big difference in human behaviour when you know what makes people tick. With the concepts of gaze detection and social compliance in mind, hospitals can use simple, strategically placed eye stickers to improve infection control.
There’s good scientific evidence that ‘eyes on sign’ are effective in making people behave better, giving the feeling of being watched. Eye stickers add instant personality to soap dispensers and driers, and could cheer up your cleaning – but more importantly these could actually improve handwashing compliance.
Try it out - free eye stickers
This seems like an easy intervention to improve infection control – so we’ve produced a sheet of (wipeable, removable) vinyl stickers to try our eyes around your hand wash areas.
The science doesn’t say anything about how funny they can make a soap dispenser...but they certainly can raise a smile and they might just do more...
Just email us for a free sheet of eye stickers.
(For more about this we recommend the Ted Talk by research scientist, Erez Yoel – ‘How to motivate people to good for others.’ )