To find out if we’re all terrible people, researchers dropped 17,000 wallets in 40 countries, just to see what we’d do.
Pop quiz, hot shot. If you found a wallet on the footpath, would you:
A: walk on by
B: hand it in, or
C: take the money?
Well, to find out, sneaky researchers planted 17,303 wallets in 350 cities, and the results found that people are more likely to return a lost wallet with cash than a lost wallet without. In fact, the study indicates that the more money that is inside the wallet, the more likely it is to be returned.
Which is ridiculous, considering the growing apathetic cynicism that is in bloom in current year.
So, does this mean that we’re powered by altruism under all that ice and frowns?
No, but it does mean that we don’t want to be viewed as criminals by our peers.
Per the research, “each wallet (actually a transparent business card case) contained a key, a grocery list, and three identical business cards displaying a fictitious male name and a working email address.”
The contents of the grocery list (and the name inside) was geo-sensitive. For example, in the UK names included David Brown, Mark Smith, and Michael Wilson; in the US, Brad O’Brien, Brett Miller, and Connor Baker; In India, the names were Gaurav Kapoor, Govind Malik, and Shekhar Kohli.
Each wallet was then “dropped” at a local landmark (the bank, the theatre, the post office, etc). A different research assistant would then approach an employee, tell them, and wait for whoever picked it up to respond to the supplied email address, or not.
While each zone of the world differed slightly, but in all places measured bar two, the populace was more likely to return the wallet if it contained money.
To crank up the difficulty, researchers performed a second experiment, but with wallets containing $94.15 (which was seven times the original money condition). But the more cash-heavy wallets encouraged further reporting rates. Per the study, “with reporting rates in these countries increased from an average of 46 per cent (of wallets with no money in it) to 61 per cent (of wallets with a small amount of money inside) to 72 per cent (of wallets with almost $100 snug within).”
So, are we actually good people after all, and indeed, under everything else? According to the authors of the study, “honest behaviour is a central feature of economic and social life.”
Don’t make me love you again, humanity.