We usually think that when someone finds a lost wallet they are less likely to return the money, right? It is what is commonly assumed about human nature. However, a study published in the journal Science makes us rethink this prediction.
Conducted in forty countries, over a period of three years and involving thousands of people, it was sought to demonstrate whether people behave honestly when they are given incentives to not do so. What was discovered? That people are more likely to return lost wallets that contain money. Not only that: the more money they contain, the more likely they are to be returned.
More than 17,000 wallets were “lost” in 355 cities on all continents. All had business cards with an email address, some contained money, some did not, with an approximate value of $ 13.45. The researchers analyzed which people had contacted their supposed owner.
The interesting thing about this study is that, in 38 of 40 countries, against more money in the wallets, the person who found it was more likely to return it. On average, 40% of the people who were given wallets without cash reported them, compared with 51% of people who were given wallets with money.
When they conducted the experiment again in three countries (Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States), and added wallets with “a lot of money” ($ 94.15), the difference was even more proven. Many more people sent an email to return the wallets with more: 72% compared to 61% of people who were given wallets containing $ 13.45 and 46 percent of the people at They were given wallets without money.
Why does this happen? It is determined that if we talk about pennies or a couple of dollars, the human mind says “It will not be necessary.” However, when we talk about larger sums we are aware of our feelings of guilt.
“The evidence indicates that people tend to worry about the welfare of others and have an aversion to seeing themselves as thieves,” said Alain Cohn, a study author and assistant professor of information at the University of Michigan. Those who received wallets with more money have more to gain from dishonesty, but that also increases “the psychological cost of the dishonest act.”
Michel Maréchal, a co-author of the study, who is a professor of Economics at the University of Zurich, said that organizations could foster integrity by “making people more aware of the negative impact that behavior can have on others, as well as by hindering more people from persuading themselves that they are being honest when they actually did something wrong. ”
“It shows that when we make a decision about being dishonest or not, it’s not just about ‘What can I get from it against what is the punishment, what effort is necessary?'” Said Nina Mazar, a behavioral scientist at the University of Boston that was not involved in the study. “It really matters that people have morals and like to think of themselves as good human beings.”
Fuente: Science Magazine. Civic honesty around the globe.