Stylized and photographic eye images do not increase charitable donations in a field experiment

  • Paul Lennon Hartpury University Centre
  • Rachel Grant Hartpury University Centre
  • V. Tamara Montrose Hartpury University Centre
Keywords: eye images, watching eyes effect, prosociality, field experiments


The effects of watching eyes upon prosocial behavior have been explored in various contexts, for example, in relation to charitable donations, honor-system payments and littering. Whilst studies have explored the effects of both photographic and stylized eyes upon prosocial behavior, no study, to our knowledge, has compared stylized eyes to photographic eyes. Here we explored the effects of stylized and photographic eye images upon prosocial behavior assessed via charitable donations in a ‘free cakes’ field experiment. Charitable giving was assessed under six eye image conditions, three stylized eye images (evil eye, eye of Horus, all-seeing eye), one photographic eye image (human eye image) and two control images (geometric shape control and blank control). No difference in the amount of money donated was found between any of the eye image conditions. These results suggest that watching eyes, whether stylized or photographic, are not effective at eliciting prosocial behavior via charitable giving. However, further study contrasting single and paired eye imagery, and exploration of the effects of stylized eye imagery in deterring littering and crime, would be beneficial.

Author Biographies

Paul Lennon, Hartpury University Centre
Rachel Grant, Hartpury University Centre
V. Tamara Montrose, Hartpury University Centre
Original Articles