Players who became anonymous dictators in a simple online game showed unexpected benevolence toward their subjects, giving away more of their own money than previous, real-life experiments predicted.
“This was supposed to be a simple replication, where we backed up the results of previous experiments, just in an online setting,” said biologist Nichola Raihani of University College London. “But the results weren’t what we expected.”
Raihani and co-author Redouan Bshary, a biologist at Switzerland’s Université de Neuchâtel, published their work June 5 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
In 2006, researchers put an illustrated pair of watchful eyes in a coffee break room to see how they affected donations to an “honesty box.” Under the eyes, drinkers paid three times more than usual.
“[W]e believe that images of eyes motivate cooperative [behavior] because they induce a perception in participants of being watched,” ethologist Melissa Bateson and colleagues wrote in that study.