Zoi Manesi: "Prosocial Behavior Under Surveillance: Understanding the Eye-Images Effect"

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Zoi Manesi: "Prosocial Behavior Under Surveillance: Understanding the Eye-Images Effect"

On February 13, 2017 Zoi Manesi successfully defended the PhD thesis entitled "Prosocial Behavior Under Surveillance: Understanding the Eye-Images Effect" at VU Amsterdam, 11.45 uur.

Prof. Dr. Paul A.M. van Lange

Dr. Thomas V. Pollet


The objective of this dissertation was to contribute to the scientific understanding of the eye-images effect. According to this effect, minimal cues to being watched in the form of eyes or eye-like shapes can enhance prosociality. After some seminal studies, the eye-images effect inspired considerable theorizing and research. And in recent years, it elicited several questions, such as: When does it occur? Why does it exactly occur? And there was the critical question: What is the scope of the effect?

This dissertation helps to clarify this phenomenon by pointing to the following tentative conclusions. First, eyes need to be watching you to enhance prosociality: Only when eyes are paying attention they can make people act in socially desirable ways. This finding suggests that only when eyes are paying attention they may elicit concerns about one’s own reputation and promote prosocial reputation management. Second, next to the psychology of reputation, eyes are likely to activate alternative mechanisms, such as liking: Under certain circumstances, liking of eye-like patterns can explain the eye-images effect on prosociality. Third, eye images are potentially a powerful intervention for promoting forms of prosociality that are relatively normative or entail a low cost (e.g., conservation and environmental concern or helping behavior). Yet, eye images may be less powerful in promoting certain other forms of prosociality that are relatively less normative or entail a higher cost (e.g., disaster donations). Fourth, for high-cost prosocial acts (such as helping an outgroup far away), eye images may matter less than other key variables, such as prosocial personality tendencies.

Taken all together, the findings in this dissertation highlight various critical aspects of the eye-images effect that have been underexplored or less understood. These findings help unravel the circumstances in which eye images do (or do not) matter and stimulate further exploration of this controversial, yet fascinating phenomenon.

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