Secure Beneath the Watchful Eyes

BoingBoing links to an image of a London Underground crime prevention poster with a picture of disembodied eyes and the slogan ‘Secure Beneath the Watchful Eyes’.

It could be a rather ill advised advert, unwittingly reminding London’s citizens of 1984-style totalitarian policing, or it could be a rare flash of post-9/11 irony in a public service announcement.

I suspect, however, that the poster is inspired by West Midlands Police’s Operation Momentum, which uses posters with images of eyes in an attempt to cut crime.

This was based on a study (pdf) by psychologist Dr Melissa Bateson who found that a picture of a pair of eyes near a coffee machine honesty box tripled the amount of money collected.

Bateson suggests that eyes remind us that we could be being watched, and, either consciously or unconsciously, we feel to the need to be more honest as a result.

Whether disembodied eyes with London Underground signs as pupils have the same effect remains to be seen.

jpg of ‘Secure Beneath the Watchful Eyes’ poster.
Link to Newcastle Uni press release on Operation Momentum.
pdf of paper ‘Cues of being watched enhance cooperation in a real-world setting’.

5 thoughts on “Secure Beneath the Watchful Eyes”

  1. Just a note – this was issued by London Buses, not London Underground (see the bottom right of the poster “Buses are getting better” and the “Buses” Roundel (all red, not red and blue).

  2. I find this poster deeply disturbing because its not a Government Information advert, its propaganda. It’s in the business of selling the notion that we should be fearful and that safety can only be found through surveillance
    On a less political and more scientific note, I’m curious about the whole psychology of Government / public service advertising.
    Ignoring the factual based campaigns, such as the Speed Kills road safety adverts, what are the psychological factors involved in people’s acceptance of government propaganda posters?
    If you look at any 1st world / developing world dictator or despot, the poster is a key propaganda tool. There is a strong inverse correlation between the number of posters showing pictures of the ‘glorious leader’ and the level of free speech in a country.
    Desensitization is going to be a big factor. Ten years ago the London Buses poster would of been unthinkable. The Bystander Effect must also have a role. “Thousands of other people aren’t doing anything about it so I can’t do anything”.
    What other factors are involved?
    Chris

  3. Two minor points
    – This poster was released before the Bateson research came out (2006)
    – In the experiment reported in the Bateson research, the eyes were placed above a poster telling people what to do (in this case, contribute money for tea and coffee drunk). In my opinion this doesn’t distinguish between compliance due to a feeling of being watched, and compliance due to the attention grabbing affect of eyes (and hence consequently noticing the instructions)

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