Study shows people are more likely to be honest than greedy, even though a healthy cynicism exists within them
A University of Michigan study involving 17,000 subjects in 355 cities in 40 countries shows that honesty, not greed, may be making the world go round. Published in Science, the behavioural sciences study involved members of the research team entering public buildings and handing dummy wallets to employees in the reception area, claiming that the wallet was found on the street outside.
The wallets had a transparent card case with identical business cards containing a fictitious native man’s e-mail ID and other particulars, a shopping list and a key. While some of the wallets had $13.45 in the local currency, some had none. The researchers based their assessment on who mailed the “owner” about returning the wallet.
In 38 of the 40 countries, 51% of the time the wallet with money was returned versus 40% for those that didn’t contain any cash, showing that people generally tended to return wallets with cash than those without. There was a vast difference in the rate of honesty, with Scandinavia proving the most honest and Africa and Asia the least. Wallets containing larger sums were more likely to be returned, although the larger sum experiment was carried out only in three countries.
Juxtaposed against a study by the same team of researchers reporting that the majority of 299 respondents, when surveyed about the likely results of the test, said that the larger the money the more likely it was to be kept, the experiment reveals that we are more likely to “do the right thing”, despite harbouring some cynicism about others around us.
Indeed, if there wasn’t an implicit trust in the overall better nature of our fellow humans—inspired largely by our own sense of ethics—society would have long ceased, argues The Economist. Such implicit/conditioned urge to do the right thing may have influenced altruism and the study shows that this may be universal.