Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Imaginary Friends May Make Children More Moral

It's obvious that we are less likely to cheat when people are watching. But it's also true if false eyes are watching:
conducted a field experiment demonstrating that merely hanging up posters of staring human eyes is enough to significantly change people’s behavior. Over the course of 32 days, the scientists spent many hours recording customer’s “littering behavior” in their university’s main cafeteria, counting the number of people that cleaned up after themselves after they had finished their meals. In their study, the researchers determined the effect of the eyes on individual behavior by controlling for several conditions (e.g. posters with a corresponding verbal text, without any text, male versus female faces, posters of something unrelated like flowers, etc). The posters were hung at eye-level and every day the location of each poster was randomly determined. The researchers found that during periods when the posters of eyes, instead of flowers, overlooked the diners, twice as many people cleaned up after themselves.
Similarly, in children, it works if invisible eyes are watching:
Two child groups (5–6 and 8–9 years of age) participated in a challenging rule-following task while they were (a) told that they were in the presence of a watchful invisible person (“Princess Alice”), (b) observed by a real adult, or (c) unsupervised. Children were covertly videotaped performing the task in the experimenter’s absence. Older children had an easier time at following the rules but engaged in equal levels of purposeful cheating as the younger children. Importantly, children’s expressed belief in the invisible person significantly determined their cheating latency, and this was true even after controlling for individual differences in temperament.


  1. Amike7:26 AM

    Does it matter that the invisible friend is female? Royal? Human? Both of my invisible friends were mice. What effect must THAT have had?

  2. Alyssa (Blogger is hatin')10:49 AM

    Like God? I remember fearing God as a child. He was always watching.

  3. Amike,

    I think that just means you saw the movie The Rescuers.


    I'm sure it has a similar effect.


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