Suppose you find a wallet. Do you contact the owner to return it to him? Or would you rather keep the money alone? New research shows that the odds of the first scenario are higher, especially if there is too much money in the portfolio.
The scientists involved in the study, published today in Science, wanted to see if financial incentives influence people's honesty. In other words: Are people still honest if they can also make money easily?
The researchers left more than 17,000 scholarships in 40 different countries. Not on the street, no: they took the wallets as "found" to police stations, banks, museums, post offices, hotels and other public authorities that many people consider places where you can deliver items found.
All the bags looked the same – like a sort of transparent card holder – and contained a key, a shopping list, and business cards with the name of the so-called owner. Sometimes there was money, sometimes not.
It turned out that wallets with money wiped out the "owner" more often than they did not have. And the following applies: The higher the amount of money, the greater the chance that the portfolio will find its way to the rightful owner.
According to the researchers, this is mainly because people do not like to see themselves as a thief. This feeling brings psychological pressure, they say. And that pressure apparently outweighs the economic benefits of holding a large portfolio.
In fact, the differences between the 40 countries surveyed are very large. If you lose your wallet, according to this research, it is best to happen in Switzerland, the Netherlands or Scandinavia. About 70% of the wallets, with and without money, end up again with the owner.
You are less well in Peru, Morocco, and China. In China, just over 20% of the portfolios found contacted the owner. If there were no money, that percentage fell below 10%.