staring eyes reduce theft
April 29, 2013

Impact Of Anti-Theft Posters Featuring Eyes Analyzed By UK Researchers

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Potential thieves are less likely to swipe cycles from bike racks if they get the feeling that they´re being watched — even if the eyes on them don´t actually belong to a person — according to a new study published late last week in the journal PLoS ONE.

As part of a two-year experiment, professors and security personnel from Newcastle University in the UK placed a picture of two staring eyes above selected bike racks at locations across the school´s campus.

They discovered that the posters, which also included a brief anti-theft message, reduced the number of bicycles swiped from those locations by 62 percent. Conversely, bike racks that lacked the signs experienced a 63 percent increase in stolen cycles, suggesting that the criminal activity had been relocated, not prevented.

The paper, which was written by instructors Melissa Bateson and Daniel Nettle and security team member Ken Nott, has already led to changes on the school´s campus. In addition, experts from the university are working with law enforcement officials throughout the UK in order to help them adapt the research for their own use.

“We don´t know exactly what is happening here but this just adds to the growing evidence that images of eyes can have a big impact on behavior,” Nettle, the lead author of the paper said in a statement. “We think that the presence of eye images can encourage co-operative behavior.”

“One strong possibility is that the images of eyes work by making people feel watched. We care what other people think about us, and as a result we behave better when we feel we are being observed,” he added. “The next step would be to increase the scope of the experiment across a citywide area to see if the effect is maintained, but the pattern definitely looks like it is worth exploring further.”

During the first year of the experiment, the team kept tabs on the level of bikes stolen at all of the racks campus-wide in order to establish control statistics. They then placed the special anti-crime signs in three locations, leaving the remaining bike racks as they were. Finally, Bateson, Nettle and Nott monitored both types of racks for another year to determine what impact the posters would have on the bicycle crime rate.

“Anything we can do to reduce the level of theft on the campus is very welcome,” Nott said. “I had followed previous work done by this team and thought it might be able to make a difference to levels of crime, so I decided to suggest this experiment. The results were clear and we have now put these pictures up across all the bike racks on the campus.”