Humans pay close attention to the reputational consequences of their actions. Recent experiments indicate that even very subtle cues that one is being observed can affect cooperative behaviors. Expressing our opinions about the morality of certain acts is a key means of advertising our cooperative dispositions. Here, we investigated how subtle cues of being watched would affect moral judgments. We predicted that participants exposed to such cues would affirm their endorsement of prevailing moral norms by expressing greater disapproval of moral transgressions. Participants read brief accounts of two moral violations and rated the moral acceptability of each violation. Violations were more strongly condemned in a condition where participants were exposed to surveillance cues (an image of eyes interposed between the description of the violation and the associated rating scale) than in a control condition (in which the interposed image was of flowers). We discuss the role that public declarations play in the interpersonal evaluation of cooperative dispositions.
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- reputation monitoring
- surveillance cues
- moral judgments
- signaling theory