If you recently found a cash-filled wallet belonging to Brett Miller, Connor Baker, or Brad O'Brien and made the effort to return it, you may have helped researchers restore a collective faith in mankind. The New York Times reports on a new study in the journal Science that tried to gauge "civic honesty around the globe" with an experiment: leave "lost" wallets, either empty or filled with money, with subjects to see if they try to return them to rightful owners. Scientists left more than 17,000 wallets in 40 countries worldwide, with either no cash or the equivalent of $13.45 in local currency. The wallets also had a key, grocery list, and business cards with a male name common to that region, complete with an email address. Study assistants would enter venues like banks, museums, and post offices to "turn in" the lost wallets to unsuspecting subjects working there.
The results were counterintuitive: On average, 40% of the people who found the cashless wallets emailed "owners" to return them; even more (51%) of those who found the moneyed wallets did the same. When researchers replicated the study in three countries, this time adding wallets with $94.15 each, 72% of the subjects made contact to return the wallets with the $94.15, while 61% emailed for the $13.45 wallets, and 46% emailed about the empty ones. What does this suggest? "That people tend to care about the welfare of others and they have an aversion to seeing themselves as a thief," study co-author Alain Cohn tells the Times. Co-author Christian Zund adds, "Without money, not reporting a wallet doesn't feel like stealing. With money, however, it suddenly feels like stealing." The countries that reported the most wallets: Switzerland and Scandinavian nations. The two worst were China and Morocco, while the US fell smack in the middle of the pack. (Read more discoveries stories.)