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Modern and Traditional Japanese Culture: The Psychology of Buddhism, Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Manga, Anime and Shinto. 在日イギリス人男性による日本文化論.

Friday, August 12, 2016


Eyes or the Law

Eyes or the Law
There is quite a lot of research to show that Westerners become pro-social (nicer, more moral) when they are faced with drawings of eyes (Bateson, Nettle, & Roberts, 2006; Francey & Bergmüller, 2012; Haley & Fessler, 2005). Westerners cooperate more (Bateson, Nettle, & Roberts, 2006), pick up litter more (Francey & Bergmüller, 2012), and are more generous in "dictator games" (Haley & Fessler, 2005).

Since my shtick is that the Japanese are always watching themselves, or that in Japan the kind old sun is always watching, I had anticipated a cultural difference in the extent to which pictures of eyes would motivate the Japanese to be prosocial.

First of all I have noted that posters encouraging the Japanese to be prosocial (don't steal, litter, block the doors) often feature eyes, so that is one notch against my theory.

However, reviewing the literature on the effect of eyes on Japanese behaviour, the results are ambivalent.

Kitayama, Snibbe, Markus, & Suzuki, (2004) found that Japanese showed the mere exposure effect, enhancing the value of their own possessions, only in the presence of pictures of eyes. This is noteworthy in that the prosocial norm would be to be humble and efface ones possessions in the presence of others' gaze. I hypothesized that eyes encourage Japanese to evaluate themselves, and that since they show visual self-enhancement, the eyes encouraged them to self-enhance. In other words, the eyes in the poster were felt to be the subject's own eyes rather than the eyes of others.

More recent research (三船 & 山岸, 2015; 三船, 橋本, & 山岸, 2008) found that Japanese favoured an ingroup (a group to which they belong) rather than an outgroup when faced with a diagram of eyes. Without the eyes the Japanese subjects were, if anything, more generous to strangers. The eyes, or at least the Kabuki ones hardly seem to have increased overall average generosity and ingroup favouritism can hardly be described as prosocial. On the contrary nepotism is something that one might expect Westerners to avoid when faced with the gaze of others.

Finally a study published last year (阿部 & 藤井, 2015) attempted to use posters with eyes to encourage Japanese to park their bicycles in the right place. The research had a result but only with the first (left) of the three posters shown above. All three posters have pictures of eyes but only the first poster has a large central pair of ideograms (highlighted by me in red) saying "ILLEGAL." Could it be this rather than the eyes that encouraged those near the first poster to park their bicycles more diligently.

As I argued in respect of Ma Kellam's research (Ma-Kellams & Blascovich, 2013) which found that in a multi-ethnic group, thinking about science made subjects more moral might be due to non-WEIRD subjects being encouraged to think in a more sciencey, category or law bound, way, like the left most "ILLEGAL!" poster above.

So perhaps, mirrors and eyes are to Westerners, what science and the law are to the Japanese. And that is why, even more than posters with eyes, Japan is covered public sooths (標語, see Nakajima, 1999), telling them to buckle up, drive safely, and greet each other. These sooths probably really have an effect! They get the Japanese to appraise themselves linguistically, which is something that the Japanese do not usually do (Kim, 2002).

Francey, D., & Bergmüller, R. (2012). Images of Eyes Enhance Investments in a Real-Life Public Good. PLoS ONE, 7(5), e37397. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0037397
Haley, K. J., & Fessler, D. M. . (2005). Nobody’s watching?: Subtle cues affect generosity in an anonymous economic game. Evolution and Human Behavior, 26(3), 245–256. Retrieved from www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1090513805000036
Kim, H. S. (2002). We talk, therefore we think? A cultural analysis of the effect of talking on thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(4), 828. Retrieved from https://labs.psych.ucsb.edu/kim/heejung/kim_2002.pdf
Ma-Kellams, C., & Blascovich, J. (2013). Does ‘Science’ Make You Moral? The Effects of Priming Science on Moral Judgments and Behavior. PLoS ONE, 8(3), e57989. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0057989
Nakajima, Y. 中島, 義道. (1999). うるさい日本の私. 新潮社.
Bateson, M., Nettle, D., & Roberts, G. (2006). Cues of being watched enhance cooperation in a real-world setting. Biology Letters, 2(3), 412–414. Retrieved from rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/2/3/412.short
Kitayama, S., Snibbe, A. C., Markus, H. R., & Suzuki, T. (2004). Is There Any ‘Free’ Choice? Psychological Science, 15(8), 527.
三船恒裕, & 山岸俊男. (2015). 内集団ひいきと評価不安傾向との関連. 社会心理学研究, 31(2), 128–134. doi.org/10.14966/jssp.31.2_128
三船恒裕, 橋本博文, & 山岸俊男. (2008). 内集団への利他行動に対する「目」の効果. Presented at the 日本社会心理学会第49回大会, かごしま県民交流センター.
阿部正太朗, & 藤井聡. (2015). 他者の監視を想起させる「目」の絵を用いたポスターによる放置駐輪抑制効果の検証. 都市計画論文集, 50(1), 37–45. doi.org/10.11361/journalcpij.50.37

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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.