Whey, honestly, people are dealing with a found wallet? Does it make any difference if there is much or little money in it? Researchers from Switzerland and the United States examined this in a study in 355 cities in 40 countries – with surprising results: the more money in the wallet, the more honest people were. This is reported by the team led by Michel André Maréchal from the University of Zurich in the journal "Science".
The scientists also questioned top economists and citizens on their assessment of how people would handle found wallets. By and large, both groups expected that people would rather retain larger amounts. "The study shows that we have too negative an image of man," says co-author Christian Lukas Zünd of the University of Zurich, the German Press Agency. People are more honest than expected.
The attempt included a good 17,000 purses with business cards, some with keys and sums of money of various heights. Researchers' helpers claimed to have found them and gave them to the reception of institutions – such as hotel reception desks, banks, box office, post offices, police stations or offices. The researchers paid attention to how many times the wallets found their way back to the supposed owner.
Big surprise at the follow-up study
The results: Firstly, purses with keys were returned more often than keys without keys, regardless of the amount of money. The researchers conclude that finders – in this case, people receiving institutions – often have selfless motives, because the key is of value to the owner, not the finder.
The big surprise for the researchers, however, was that although the amount of money in the stock market made a difference, but in the reverse expected sense: the higher the amounts were, the more purses were returned. The owners of 51 percent of the purses, which contained about twelve euros were contacted, at the stock exchanges without money, only 40 percent were contacted. In a smaller follow-up study in Poland, the United States and the United Kingdom, the quota at 80 euros in the wallet even rose to 71 percent.
The researchers found this pattern in almost all 40 countries. However, the return rate was very different overall: For purses without money, the Swiss were the most honest, with larger amounts of money Danes, Swedes and New Zealanders. Germany was 9th in exchanges without money and 11th in exchanges with money.
The authors, behavioral researchers and economists, explain the result with the fact that people feel rather thieves when retaining larger amounts. Many could live poorly with this self-image. "The psychological costs are more important than the material gain," concludes co-author Alain Cohn of the University of Michigan. "People want to see themselves as honest people, not as thieves," says Maréchal.
In total, more than 8,000 of the more than 17,000 stock exchanges returned to their supposed owners. Among other things, finds that had been filed with two corruption authorities did not reappear.
What is the benefit of the study? Individual studies have repeatedly shown that people wanted to be honest, says Zünd. "Our study now shows that this is a global phenomenon, in poor and rich countries, in men and women, in young and old."
Benefits from such studies could attract public authorities and companies. "You can better motivate people to give honest answers if you take them in their honor," said Zünd. The addition, often printed at the end of forms, "I assure you that I have answered all questions truthfully" should be better in the beginning, then there are more true answers. And students cheated less if they had to sign a code of honor before the exam. Also, tax authorities could consider how to use such simple means to prevent fraud.