When someone is watching you, you may change your behaviour in various ways: this is called the ‘audience effect’. Social behaviours such as acting prosocially or changing gaze patterns may be used as signals of reputation and thus may be particularly prone to audience effects. The present paper aims to test the relationship between prosocial choices, gaze patterns and the feeling of being watched within a novel ecologically valid paradigm, where participants communicate with a video-clip of a confederate and believe she is (or is not) a live feed of a confederate who can see them back. Results show that when participants believe they are watched, they tend to make more prosocial choices and they gaze less to the confederate. We also find that the increase in prosocial behaviour when being watched correlates with social anxiety traits. Moreover, we show for the first time that prosocial choices influence subsequent gaze patterns of participants, although this is true for both live and pre-recorded interactions. Overall, these findings suggest that the opportunity to signal a good reputation to other people is a key modulator of prosocial decisions and eye gaze in live communicative contexts. They further indicate that gaze should be considered as an interactive and dynamic signal.
The belief in being watched tends to increase prosocial choices of participants.
The increase in prosocial behaviour correlates with higher social anxiety traits.
Participants gaze less to the confederate when they believe she can see them.
Less prosocial choices correlate with more gazes to confederate after the choice.
The opportunity to signal good reputation modulates prosocial choices and eye gaze.