We can feel alone in digital space too – and may behave differently as well
According to the “watching eyes-effect”, people tend to act kinder and more generous towards others when they perceive cues that others can see them. This phenomenon is based on our recognition that we may be judged based on our behaviour. Therefore, we try to form positive images of ourselves in the eyes of others. Interestingly, people are so sensitive to social cues, that this effect and its corresponding pro-social behaviours may even be elicited by pictures of eyes.
The present study involved children aged 3-4 years, who were randomly assigned to three different groups. In the first part of the study, children in each of the three groups were asked a few simple questions by the experimenter. One group of children were asked questions related to open eyes, another group were asked questions about closed eyes and a third group were asked questions about flowers. Then, in the online version, participants learned a teddy bear game where they could "place" teddy bears on two shelves. After trying it out, one shelf was theirs and the other shelf belonged to “another child” who was not present. The children were then given four teddy bears to share between themselves and the other child. The number of teddy bears they placed on their own shelf was the number of times they could watch a short animation of a small hamster. Additionally, the experimenter told them that the number of teddy bears they places on the other shelf was the number of times the other child could watch the same animation. The children were then left alone, letting them allocate the teddy bears, with either an open eye, a closed eye or flowers appearing in the middle of the screen.
The results of the online version show that children are less likely to give a teddy bear to another child in the presence of closed eyes, and on average, gave the fewest number of teddy bears to their partner in this group. In contrast, in the presence of open eyes and flowers, children were more generous in sharing with their partner. Overall, children aged 3-4 were less generous towards each other in the presence of closed eyes.