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. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2019/06/19/science.aau8712.
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.