Mark Brown in Wired describes some psychology research showing that people change their behavior in response to posters that bear images of staring eyes:
Psychology researchers at Newcastle University hung two different posters at a restaurant, to see how customers would react. They both featured text asking patrons to bin their rubbish, but one had a picture of flowers on it and the other had a pair of staring eyes.
The number of people who paid attention to the sign, and cleaned up after their meal, doubled when confronted with a pair of gazing peepers. The research team, lead by Dr. Melissa Bateson and Dr. Daniel Nettle of the Centre for Behaviour and Evolution found that twice as many customers followed the orders when met with eyes, compared to figures for the flower poster from the day before.
That's not surprising in the context of earlier research. There have been many studies showing a priming effect from posters and images ostensibly unrelated to the instructions of a research exercise. Put somebody in a room, tell them to do some task, and the outcome may be different depending on whether the wall bears a landscape picture or a picture of a "watching" person or even animal.
The reason I thought it was interesting -- I wonder how long it would take for this effect to wear off if people knew widely that it existed. The article suggests that people who advertise or design signs might want to take advantage of the effect by designing eyes into their signage. I can see the rationale for that -- hey, think how much money the average fast food restaurant could save on cleanup! But the size of the effect now depends on the relative rarity of signs that have eyes on them. The priming should be weaker if these signs become ubiquitous -- or annoying.
But in order to benefit from a first mover advantage, I think I'll put small pictures of staring eyes on each page of my final exam...