6. Pictures of Eyes
Obviously, we are more honest when someone (or a security camera) is watching us, but studies have actually shown that if any depiction of an eye is in view, even if it is cartoonish or nonhuman, it makes people less likely to cheat or to behave immorally.
In one experiment, all a professor had to do to drastically influence the actions of her colleagues was change the clip art on a piece of paper. They did the test in a teachers lounge, where the staff enjoyed a coffee/tea station that ran on the honor system. Teachers were welcome to help themselves, but a notice posted near the station asked users to pay for their coffee in the honesty box.
A picture of a cartoon eye was placed at the top of the reminder notice, and the amount of money left in the honesty box tripled. Just to be sure it wasn't a coincidence, the next week the eye was replaced with a flower. Contributions went back to normal. Somehow, the subtle reminder of being watched made people way more honest.
But we've not only been programmed to fear the all-seeing eye, we have also been warned since childhood that otherworldly, omnipresent forces are also watching us, all the damn time. Whether it's Santa knowing our sleeping patterns or God himself hovering over our every move like a holy hawk, many of us were told that an invisible something was watching and keeping score. As a result, even if you're an atheist, any reference to God seems to make you more generous with your money and more moral in general.
In one experiment, subjects played a game in which they unscrambled words, then decided what to do with a pot of fake money. When the unscrambled words evoked God in some way, the money was given to anonymous strangers more generously -- yes, even if the unscramblers were nonbelievers. When the unscrambled words spelled out neutral concepts, the participants were more stingy. It just takes the slightest of reminders that somewhere, somehow, someone is watching you.
5. The Lighting
Obviously, more crimes are committed at night than in the day, presumably for the sheer fact that it's easier to get away. But oddly enough, even otherwise law-abiding people make moral choices based on how bright the lighting is -- regardless of whether other people can still see them. Dim light simply makes people less honest and more likely to cheat.
And we're not talking really low lighting, where it could maybe create the illusion that you're hidden -- just slightly lower lighting is enough. In this study, participants were divided between a well-lit room and a dimly lit room, then asked to take a test. For every answer they got right, they got to keep 50 cents from an envelope containing $10. The catch was that they graded their own tests. Of the two groups, the dimly lit ones were more likely to cheat and to claim they got more right than they actually did.
Oh, and get this -- in another experiment, half of the subjects were asked to wear sunglasses, then allocate a portion of $6 to a stranger. SURPRISE! The cool kids in the shades were less generous than their nonshaded counterparts.
That's right -- because we have a harder time seeing people, we assume they have a harder time seeing us, even when every logical fiber of our being tells us that is obviously bullshit. Apparently this is because deep down, we're just little toddlers thinking no one can see us if our eyes are covered.
This apparent invisibility makes us more likely to be dishonest on any level, whether it is lying in an email while in a dim office, cheating on our significant other in a dark club or shortchanging that annoying customer in an under-lit coffee shop.
4. Personal Cleanliness
Quick, fill in the missing letters of these words:
Don't worry, there are no right or wrong answers -- we will simply be judging the cleanliness of your soul based on what you say. According to scientists, if your answers included WASH, SHOWER or SOAP, you might subconsciously feel bad about something and want to metaphorically clean yourself off. Because apparently, a guilty conscience makes us want to get clean.
In one study, participants who related a past misdeed to interviewers were more likely to then fill in word puzzles with cleaning-related words rather than words such as "with," "wish" or "shop." Anytime subjects were made to think about doing something wrong, they gravitated toward things that made them feel clean.
In a different experiment, subjects were asked to copy first-person fictional stories, then rate the desirability of certain products. The people who wrote out stories featuring a scheming, lying protagonist favored cleaning products, while people who wrote out stories with nice-guy protagonists were more random in their selections.
It's called the "Lady Macbeth effect," and unfortunately, it works just as well the other way. While doing something wrong makes you feel dirty, feeling clean turns you into an asshole. Washing or wiping our hands seems to induce a moral cleansing effect in us. So you are actually less likely to be helpful and more likely to lie to someone if you have just washed up.
3. The Smell of Citrus
The same guy who brought you the Lady Macbeth effect decided to see whether there were still more ways that cleanliness makes you either totally awesome or a horrible, horrible person. It turns out that regardless of your own level of personal hygiene, even the cleanliness of the room you are in can affect how you act.
Most of us associate the smell of citrus fruits with cleanliness, because the household cleaning product industry decided that was what every damn thing it sells us should smell like. So now when you smell a hint of lemon, you don't think "delightful summer beverage" or "scurvy-fightin' time!" but "Did I remember to tip the maid?"
So powerful is this association between citrus and cleanliness that you will behave better because of it. That's right -- unlike the last study, which said being more physically clean makes you an ass, a different study shows that when you smell something clean, you become a better person.
In this study, participants were brought into one of two rooms. Both rooms looked the same and had the same level of cleanliness; the only difference was that one had been sprayed with a very light citrus scent. The men and women were then told they had to split a pot of money with someone else and that the other person did not know the value of the original amount in the pot. People in the scented room were far more generous when giving this anonymous partner money than those in the unscented room. In some cases, the citrus scent actually doubled the amount of money shared.
Later, they were asked if they had noticed the smell or noticed that the room was clean. Overwhelmingly they did not, meaning the kindness and generosity bestowed on us through these "clean" scents works even on an unconscious level.
2. The Presence of Large Trees
The U.S. Forestry Service did a huge crime study (covering more than 430 cases) and found something odd, yet strikingly consistent:
Big trees equal less crime. That is, neighborhoods with large trees tend to have much lower crime rates than those with smaller trees or just bushes.
You might think that it's just because big, fancy trees are more common around big, fancy homes, so it's more correlation than causation (that is, the type of neighborhood that would have low crime anyway would also have nicer trees). But the trend holds true even if you account for that -- low crime/high income neighborhoods with smaller trees have higher crime than their peers.
Researchers can only speculate -- one commented that maybe the burglars figure that a neighborhood that can keep a tree from dying for 50 years must have its shit together (and thus must have an organized neighborhood watch program). Though that seems like a lot of deductive reasoning for a dude looking to steal a plasma TV for crack money.
Another theory is that smaller trees or low bushes skew the crime rates upward for everyone else, because they give criminals something to hide behind. Still another is that tall trees drop leaves, and that makes for loud, crunching footsteps when you're trying to sneak in at night (though again, you'd think they could just walk around the leaves or save up all of their crimes for spring).
Or maybe it goes back to the "honesty when you think you're being watched" thing, and they just think the trees are keeping an eye on them, like in the second Lord of the Rings movie. Or that they're full of cookie-making elves. Or they think Batman is hiding up there. It's hard to say, because criminals are really hard to get survey results from.
1. Signs of Other People Misbehaving
It seems humans just need any little excuse to be bad. All we need is for other people to break the ice of immorality, and we're ready to jump in with them.
For example, a parking lot with parking carts strewn willy-nilly is 28 percent more likely to get littered on than one that is clean. For some reason, once we see that someone else has misbehaved, even if we don't witness it, it gives our brains the go-ahead to be bad ourselves. It doesn't even have to be something directly related; seeing a broken window in a house might make you more likely to litter.
In one part of an exhaustive six-part study on this phenomenon, researchers left an envelope that obviously contained a 5-euro note in an open mailbox. Five euros isn't a lot of money, but most people would still say that the thought of stealing said money would never cross their minds. Well, a bunch of you would be wrong, and all it would take to change your I'm-totally-not-gonna-steal-from-random-strangers minds is a trashy-looking mailbox.
While a "mere" 13 percent of people stole the money when the mailbox looked nice and taken care of, over a quarter of the random people who walked by stole the money if the mailbox was covered in graffiti.
This isn't new; the idea has been around for a while under the name the "broken window theory," which states that when we see broken windows around, we just assume it's a Thunderdome free-for-all for committing crimes.
Seriously: What the hell is wrong with us?