People give 20 per cent more to charity when they think they are being watched, according to the findings of an experiment by Ikea.
The Swedish furniture retailer carried out its Honesty Box experiment at Paddington station in London this week to mark the launch of its annual Soft Toys for Education campaign, which raises funds for Save the Children and Unicef.
Commuters were confronted with a mountain of teddies and soft toys and encouraged to take one, paying what they thought it was worth into an honesty box. About 700 people paid for a soft toy.
Five different scenarios were tested, including a sign saying "pay as much as you want" and the use of emotive images of children.
The experiment found that when the public was asked to pay what they thought a soft toy was worth and were made aware of the charitable cause, they gave more than the average retail price of £4.15.
When people thought they were being watched, they gave 20 per cent more than when they thought they were not being observed, the research shows.
Those who believed they were not being observed gave an average of £5.60 per toy, while those who knew they were being watched donated on average £6.73 per toy.
People were more generous when shown images of children that had been supported by the campaign, giving 15 per cent more per toy, the report says.
Researchers found people were more generous at the end of the day than at the beginning – donations were almost 40 per cent higher at that time.
More than £2,300 was raised by the experiment for the campaign. The campaign, which has raised €57m since 2003, runs between 20 October and 4 January. The Ikea Foundation donates €1 for every soft toy or book sold in Ikea stores and online to Save the Children and Unicef.
Duncan Smith, a social psychologist at the neuroscience and marketing company Mindlab, which carried out the experiment on behalf of Ikea, said: "The results chime with recent studies showing that even when only a subtle amount of pressure is applied, whether that’s in the form of being observed or simply the pressure to conform to social etiquette, people are much more likely to act in a positive way.
"Bearing in mind the overwhelmingly generous response we had, we think we might have stumbled across the perfect formula for giving to encourage charitable donations. The combination of soft toys, free will and visual triggers that show who the public can help directly is a potent formula for generosity."