Tyne & Wear

Staring eyes 'deter' Newcastle University bike thieves

Ken Nott security at Newcastle University
Image caption People feel watched and behave better, researchers believe

Bike thefts have been reduced by putting pictures of staring eyes above cycle racks, researchers have found.

A team from Newcastle University decided to test the theory that people behave better when they think they are being watched.

For two years they studied crime rates at campus racks and found a drop of 62% at those which displayed eye posters.

The crime-fighting idea is now being tested at various train stations by British Transport Police (BTP).

For the first year the Newcastle team monitored bike thefts from all racks across campus for a control figure, then placed the eye signs in three locations, leaving the rest of the racks without signs.

'Behave better'

The idea for the research was inspired by a 2010 study which showed diners in a canteen were more likely to clear away their tray when there were eyes watching them.

Academics found that bike racks which had eyes placed above them experienced 62% fewer thefts than the previous year, while those without eyes saw thefts increase by 63%.

Lead researcher Prof Daniel Nettle, said: "We don't know exactly what is happening here but this just adds to the growing evidence that images of eyes can have a big impact on behaviour.

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Media captionDavid Holmes: "There are birds, insects, animals out there that use exactly the same principle"

"We think that the presence of eye images can encourage co-operative behaviour. One strong possibility is that the images of eyes work by making people feel watched.

"We care what other people think about us, and as a result we behave better when we feel we are being observed."

Barry Sharp, from BTP's London North Area Crime Team, said: "Research shows that this sign has had some promising results at Newcastle University.

"We are always looking at new ways to tackle cycle theft at rail stations."

The findings have been published in the journal PLoS ONE.

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