Third International Conference on the Teaching of Psychology
Chris Pawson,
School of Psychology,
University of East London,
London, UK


Studies have shown that participants respond to subtle cues of being watched, such as the presence of eye-like spots on a computer on which they complete a task (Wedekind & Braithwaite, 2002; Barclay, 2004). These findings have led researchers to test whether cues of being watched may lead to participants responding more prosocially or altruistically (Haley & Fessler, 2005; Burnham & Hare, 2005), and Bateson, Nettle and Roberts (2006) have recently demonstrated that the presence of visual stimuli depicting eyes can facilitate greater honesty. One way of interpreting such findings is in terms of an evolutionary explanation relating to the potential cost to reputation of failing to behave with integrity (Bateson et al, 2006), and perhaps this is linked with the responsiveness of the amygdala to ocular cues (Whalen et al., 2004).

The studies presented have adapted the aforementioned paradigms in order to test whether ocular stimuli may be used to address some widespread concerns of teachers and students alike – academic integrity and plagiarism. In the first study the author presented 4 groups of undergraduate students with an advert for an online resource regarding academic integrity. Each group received the same advert apart from variation in a banner containing a single image acoss the top of the advert. The different visual stimuli on the front of the advert included: either 1) neutral eyes, 2) staring eyes, 3) flowers or, 4) no stimuli (control group).The author found that the experimental groups presented with ocular stimuli were found to have accessed the online academic integrity resource significantly more than the ‘flower’ or control group up to a month after presentation. There was no difference between the neutral and staring eyes suggesting that it is merely "being watched" that is salient to infuencing intent to behave with academic integrity rather than any specific aspect of the ocular stimuli.

The second study repeated the same method with four new groups of undergraduates to test the impact of the stimuli on actual academic integrity rather than merely intent. In this study the independent variable of stimuli remained the same but the dependent variable measured was the level of plagiarism detected in a single piece of assessment one week after presentation of the stimuli. As predicted, the amount of plagiarism identified by the detection software (turnitin) was less in the ocular conditions. These findings are discussed with reference to teaching students about evolutionary perspectives, methods of increasing student engagement with resource provision, and increasing academic integrity amongst undergraduate psychology students.

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