Queensland researchers are trying to figure out how to stop you thieving bastards from scanning everything as onions at the self-service checkout.

According to a piece published this week in The Conversation, retail crime costs the Australian industry a frankly insane $4.5 billion dollars per year. Not all of that is from grocery shops, mind, but apparently, humans don’t give a flying fuck about stealing from a robot (or self-service checkout), so our latent attitude to five-fingered discounts while scanning our stuff ourselves is really adding to a blowout problem.

Since we’re not pulling back on the blatant criminal activity anytime soon – NSW Police put out a video about it, FFS – a team of researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are attempting to figure out how to make us stop.

And it’s all about finding out what would alter your “deviance threshold”, lead researcher Paula Dootson told PEDESTRIAN.TV.

“We’d be interested in testing things like physical human characteristics, scripts on the self-checkouts, social proofs and moral reminders,” she said.

For example: would human eyes stop you shadily hitting that ‘brown onion’ button while weighing what are quite obviously avocados? “This works on the principle of anthropomorphisation which is when people make non-human things seem human,” said Dootson, citing research which found people were more likely to gamble at a machine that looked human, and how printed eyes on rubbish bins stopped people from littering.

Or what about social proofing, which “leverages leverages the idea that we are all driven to conform to the behaviours of those around us?” Or moral reminders, which work on “the idea that if we are reminded to be honest before we have the opportunity to be deviant, we are less likely to be deviant”


For example, as Dootson told News.com.au:

“Triggering notions of right and wrong means people are less likely to lie. So could you put a message on the terminal saying customers have submitted, say, $6000 through this checkout to Make a Wish Foundation, ‘we’re doing our part, thanks for you doing yours’ that kind of thing? It’s not asking them not to steal, it’s just triggering an idea of good behaviour.”

Dootson and her co-researcher Kate Letheren are currently seeking funding and access to self-service checkouts to put their theories to the test.

Meanwhile, you’ll just have to rely on your own moral compass to see if scanning an entire week’s worth of groceries through as a carrot is something you can live with. (Also, the law.)

Photo: Quinn Rooney / Getty.