Let’s say you lost your wallet on the street and a random stranger picked it up. Do you believe you have any chance of getting your wallet back with its contents still inside it, or would you think your wallet is a goner? According to a new global study, you have reason to have faith in humanity and expect your wallet to somehow make its way back to you.
Recently, a team of economists devised an experiment involving more than 170,000 “lost” wallets that turned up in 335 cities across 40 countries, from Indonesia to Ghana to Brazil. Each wallet contained a grocery list, a key, and three business cards with the same male name and email address. Some of them had no money, while others had the equivalent of about $13.50.
To kick off the experiment, a research assistant brought a wallet to the front desk of a hotel, bank, post office or another public place. He or she would claim to have found it outside and push it toward the person behind the desk—asking them to take care of it. In the experiment, 51% of the wallets with cash were returned, compared with 40% of those without bills or coins.
But when the researchers expanded their experiment to include wallets with the equivalent of about $94, something interesting happened: the extra cash seemed to induce yet more honesty. Wallets with the big bucks were returned 72% of the time, compared with 61% of the wallets with less money and 46% of wallets with no cash.
The results of the bold study seem to bolster the idea that “people care about maintaining a positive moral view of themselves.”