Here’s a moral dilemma: if you find a wallet stuffed with bank notes, do you pocket the cash or track down the owner to return it? We can each speak for ourselves, but now a team of economists have put the unsuspecting public to the test in a mass social experiment involving 17,000 “lost” wallets in 40 countries.
They found that a majority of people returned the wallets and – contrary to classic economic logic – they were more likely to do so the more money the wallet contained.
“We mistakenly assume that our fellow human beings are selfish,” said Alain Cohn, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Michigan and first author of the study. “In reality their self-image as an honest person is more important to them than a short-term monetary gain.”
The findings defied the expectations of both professional economists and 2,500 respondents to a survey, who predicted that people would act in self-interest. [Continue reading…]