The watching-eye effect on prosocial lying

Ryo Oda, Yuta Kato, Kai Hiraishi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Evidence shows that people tend to behave prosocially when they are in the presence of images depicting eyes. There are two proximate causes of the eyes effect. One involves positive motivation to gain future reward and the other involves negative motivation to avoid violating a norm. Although several studies have suggested that positive motivation is a strong candidate, these studies were unable to distinguish between adherence to norms and prosocial behavior. We investigated the watching-eyes effect in an experimental setting to determine whether the tendency of humans to violate norms voluntarily could be understood as prosocial behavior. We compared the tendency to tell "prosocial lies" in the presence of a depiction of stylized eyes (eyes condition) with that involving no such depiction (control condition). Under the control condition, participants tended to tell lies that benefitted others, whereas the tendency toward prosocial lying disappeared under the eyes condition. This suggests that the desire to avoid violating norms by being honest is stronger than the desire to pursue a good reputation by demonstrating generosity when such violation might lead to serious costs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-5
Number of pages5
JournalEvolutionary Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015 Sept
Externally publishedYes


  • Cooperation
  • Eye images
  • Lie
  • Norm
  • Prosociality
  • Reputation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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