The Lost Wallet Study: International This Time

With kudos to Alain Cohn, Michael Andre Marechal, David Tannenbaum, and Christian Lukas Zund for a culturally deep and comprehensive study on civic honesty.Science June 19, 2019.

The authors sent research assistants into public places (hotels, stores, bank) and explained to receptionists, desk clerks, and other types of employees that they had found the wallet on the street and were in a hurry. They asked the person to see if they could return the wallet using the information that was visible. The visible wallet contents includeds cash (and some with no cash), and a business card for a fictitious freelance software engineer, a ploy that keeps the finders from trying to contact employers. There was also a grocery list and a key in the wallets. The names and business cards were changed to reflect the culture/country/city. in 355 cities (for a total of 17,303 wallets). There were 25 cities in the United States, from Albuquerque to Memphis to New York.

In the wallet study the authors learned the about the wallet entrustees:

-They do not operate under the old adage, “Finders keepers, losers weepers.”
-They are more likely to turn in the wallet if there is cash in it.
-The more cash in the wallet, the greater the likelihood that it will be turned in.
-The wallets with the largest amount of cash has a 72% return rate compared to 61% for the lesser cash wallets
-The wallets with no cash had a 46% return rate

What gives? It turns out that we think of the following things when faced with the wallet:

We do not want to be known as thieves. And we think about that in our processing.
We give great weight to the psychological cost of how we treat others.

A majority of us continue to rely on a vey basic test: How would we feel if it were our wallet? And e behave accordingly.

By country: Highest return rate: Switzerland and Scandanavia. Lowest return rates: China and Morocco.
The United States is just average.

There is so much data in the study, so more to come, as the Barometer digs deeper. But, there is a little spring in the step with the reassurance of the returned wallets.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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