By Cami Toronto, Communications —
A recent study published in Science Magazine found a heartening trend: material incentives do not hurt the principle of civic honesty in random populations. In this study, more than 17,000 wallets with various amounts of cash were given to a random stranger, who was then asked to turn it in to lost and found for them. Inside the wallet — in addition to the money — there was a business card with an email address on it. A person with civic honesty, by the definition of the study, would contact the email on the business card to return the money to its owner.
Classic economic principles have theorized that the greater the material incentive, the less motivated a subject is to display civic honesty. Thus, in terms of this study, the greater the amount of cash there was to gain, the less likely it was that the person would make an effort to return it. The study had three variables for United States participants: no money in the wallet, some money in the wallet, and “big money” in the wallet. What they found countered the principles of economics and self-interest: the more money in the wallet, the more likely that there was an effort made to return it to its owner by the stranger. An interesting and unanticipated trend that bodes well for a society’s success.
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