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100 wallets dropped in front of hidden cameras to test honesty...
October 3, 2007 2:16 PM   Subscribe

Wallettest. "...Each of the 100 wallets contained $2.10 in real money, a fake $50.00 gift certificate, some miscellaneous items and a clearly written ID card identifying the lost wallet's rightful owner. We were curious as to how honest people would be and wanted to see how different groups would compare to each other. For example, who would return the wallets more often... men or women? Young or old?" Results.
posted by goo (103 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't see how returning a wallet says you're either honest or dishonest. It's a hell of a nice thing to do, sure, but to my mind, "finders keepers" and all that. I am speaking as someone who has both returned things and had things returned to me.
posted by nasreddin at 2:20 PM on October 3, 2007


Too small a sample.
posted by IronLizard at 2:22 PM on October 3, 2007


100 ain't much of a sample: The only conclusion I can draw is, if you're forgetful, live in a racist lesbian retirement community.
posted by rob511 at 2:22 PM on October 3, 2007 [7 favorites]


Needs another category:

Lazy people.

Also they need to do a test with $5000 dollars in the wallet.
posted by tkchrist at 2:24 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Readers Digest (shudder) did a similar test a few years back, but they did it worldwide.
posted by Dr-Baa at 2:26 PM on October 3, 2007


Too small a sample? For what? I don't think this is meant to be a scientifically accurate study. It is certainly large enough a sample to talk about.
posted by Justinian at 2:26 PM on October 3, 2007


Also interesting if they varied the age, gender, and race of the wallet's ID.

Also different parts of the country.
posted by Mach3avelli at 2:28 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Too small a sample.

Yup. Hence the disclaimers. "We know that our our test demonstrates nothing, so please don't pay any attention to it".
posted by howfar at 2:28 PM on October 3, 2007


I don't think that the non-returners are necessarily "dishonest"; they could simply be "apathetic".
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:29 PM on October 3, 2007


Also, wealth and social position data is conspicuously lacking while race information is not - are the poor more likely to keep the little resources that go their way than are the rich? Are the black more likely to be poor? What if the wallet contained a gold credit card and several thousand in cash? Would the rich be as dishonest?

Skewed and unprofessional as this study may be, I'd be interested in trend data. Does this mean that the world will be less honest when the young grow up or does age teach honesty?
posted by Laotic at 2:29 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yeah; "returned wallet" and "didn't return wallet" would suffice without "were honest" and "were dishonest." Or did they follow up with "Hey, did you return that wallet?" to which everyone replied "um.... yep?"
posted by damehex at 2:30 PM on October 3, 2007


Interesting. An "experiment" that confirms all my prejudices without explaining any of their underlying causes. Where might I find more of this refreshing "sociology"? And have you got a newsletter to which I might subscribe?
posted by felix betachat at 2:31 PM on October 3, 2007 [4 favorites]


Who feels more likely to be accused of stealing a returned wallet? Someone black? Someone white? Take a wild guess. If you don't return a wallet, you might just be trying to avoid being accused of stealing.

This measures the percentage of people who return wallets. It does not measure the honesty of people.
posted by flarbuse at 2:33 PM on October 3, 2007


Yeah, lots of disclaimers but then their press release begins:

The results of a sociological experiment testing human honesty have been made public by the webmaster of www.WalletTest.com...

Yuck. They themselves dont seemt like they would do too well on a real test of human honesty....
posted by vacapinta at 2:34 PM on October 3, 2007


I think they need a few more chart formats to really get the points across. 3D Bar Charts and 3D Pie Charts simply are not enough. Plus those Pie Charts should explode.
posted by srboisvert at 2:34 PM on October 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


See, I would feel an increased sense of urgency and obligation to return the wallet if it had a lot of money or someone's credit cards in it. I hope I'd return it either way, but I'd be more likely to "do it later" if it had hardly anything in it, because the rightful owner wouldn't miss it as much.
posted by desjardins at 2:35 PM on October 3, 2007


* Yoink! *
posted by mazola at 2:37 PM on October 3, 2007


From Dr-Baa's link:
In Norway and Denmark every single wallet was returned.

I can't say enough how much I freakin love Scandinavia.
posted by 1adam12 at 2:38 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


When I found a hundred dollar bill on the floor, I put up signs about how I found certain money in this location and if you could describe it I would return it to you. (No one claimed it, put it towards beer for a party.)

When I find a dollar bill on the floor, I've made a dollar.

So with $2.10 and a $0.35 wallet plus an obviously fake gift certificate, who cares?
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:45 PM on October 3, 2007


The fake gift certificate is a nice touch and seems like it would increase the return rate, since presumably a credit at some unheard-of store would be worth less to the finder than to the original owner.
posted by exogenous at 2:47 PM on October 3, 2007


Am I the only one who read it as Wallettest? You know, walleter, walletest.

Yes, you say? Oh.
posted by birdie birdington at 2:47 PM on October 3, 2007 [5 favorites]


This summer, at the bar of an outdoor pool in Italy, my wallet dropped out of my pocket of my trunks and I walked off without it. A teenager, who I think had been sitting nearby with a bunch of his friends, tracked me down at the far end of the pool to return it.
It was stuffed with bills, too.
posted by Flashman at 2:50 PM on October 3, 2007


Well, I've lost my wallet 3 times in the past, once with over $200 in it (which was a really really large amount of money to me at the time). All three times I've had it returned. Guess from their page though, I better not lose is again.

Once it was returned before I even knew it was gone. I'd left it at a bar in a poor neighborhood (my neighborhood) in Minneapolis. I closed the place down, and probably went home to drink more. I woke to my doorbell going off at 7 a.m. with my door buzzer going off. A man on the other end claimed he had my wallet. I almost didn't buzz him in since I didn't know I'd lost it.

I've also never had anyone accept a reward for doing the right thing, though in each case it was offered.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:53 PM on October 3, 2007


From the FAQ:

Q: What were you trying to prove with your "Wallet Test"?
A: Nothing, really. We were just curious as to how honest people in general would be. We also wanted to see how different races, genders and age groups would compare to each other.


From the Results page:

The actions of a few members in a group should not, of course, be used to judge the whole group.

Mm, having it both ways is delicious!

NOTE: "Old Black People" could not be reliably tested because there was only one person who was both "Black" and "Old". Just one person is, of course, way too small of a sampling for a meaningful evaluation.


Oh, OK. 100 people is enough of a sampling for a "meaningful" evaluation? OK. If you say so.

Ugh. There is a meaningful difference between "ill-designed stunt" and "sociological experiment," and pie charts aren't it.

The real story? This dude (paulrogerkinsella(at)hotmail(dot)com) runs a bunch of crappy websites on what he hopes will be racy or controversial or niche topics, to get people like us to look at them, to generate traffic - for instance, the charming "Google Your Race," of which he says " This controversial website has been a great source of traffic!"

In other words, we've been had.
posted by Miko at 2:57 PM on October 3, 2007 [6 favorites]


Q: How did you decide if a wallet was "stolen" or "returned"?
A: As follows:
1) If the lost wallet went missing for more then 30 days - it was presumed to have been "Stolen".
2) If we got the wallet back, but all the money was missing - then that was also considered "Stolen".
3) If the lost wallet was returned within 30 days (by calling us or mailing the wallet to us) then the wallet was considered "Returned".
4) If someone saw me drop the wallet and stopped me before I had a chance to walk away - then that is considered "Returned" as well.


Thoughts:

A) It's misleading to count a returned wallet as "stolen". I want to know how many people returned the wallet with no money in it, and how many people never returned the wallet.

B) If I found an obviously cheap wallet and after picking it up I realized there was no driver's lisence, no credit cards, and less than 5 dollars, I would think to myself "There is nothing of value here that the owner would even want." I might return it or not, because in my mind, what's the point?
posted by 23skidoo at 2:57 PM on October 3, 2007


I don't see how returning a wallet says you're either honest or dishonest. It's a hell of a nice thing to do, sure, but to my mind, "finders keepers" and all that. I am speaking as someone who has both returned things and had things returned to me.

See, I can understand the "finders keepers" idea when finding a buck on the sidewalk, but a wallet is more personal. There might only be 2.10 and a gift certificate in there, but when it's part of a wallet, it was clearly of some importance to somebody and, for all I know, could've been all they had.

Plus, I've seen too many Dateline specials on similar tests to keep anything I find on the street. You never know who's watching.
posted by katillathehun at 2:57 PM on October 3, 2007


I don't think that the non-returners are necessarily "dishonest"; they could simply be "apathetic".

Steven, wouldn't truly "apathetic" people just ignore the wallet entirely?

I once lost a wallet on Park Ave. in New York. It was returned to me sans cash (after the guy had called me and told me the money was still in it). *shrug*

I left a satchel in a restaurant there, too, and the staff confirmed that evening they had found it and my stuff was still in it (mostly reading material, things for grooming, etc., and a set of extra keys). The next morning nobody at the place could find it. The most important thing to me was the actual satchel.

In Evanston, Ill., I left a newish cell phone in a restaurant, never seen again of course. Never set your phone on a restaurant table for any reason -- good rule of thumb.
posted by dhartung at 2:57 PM on October 3, 2007


nsmw
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:58 PM on October 3, 2007


From their FAQ:
Q: Who decided if someone was "white" or "black"? Those labels can be rather subjective.
A: True. To make it less subjective - the movies were evaluated by three different adults. They were the webmaster, the webmaster's wife and the webmaster's father.


*falls down laughing*
posted by rtha at 3:01 PM on October 3, 2007 [4 favorites]


Over 30 is middle aged? Over 50 is old? Was the test done in Angola?
posted by Silentgoldfish at 3:04 PM on October 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


If a person found the wallet, kept it, but then admitted it, therefore being "honest," would that blow these folks' minds?
posted by ORthey at 3:05 PM on October 3, 2007


I've been verbally berated by customers that have dropped/lost wallets/purses/cell phones in my store. They always want to see the video footage and want to file police reports and whatnot. They really want to believe that it's somehow the store's fault that the item is lost and they will be compensated, these are the people who never find their stuff.

In the safe I have about 15 or so lost wallets and a couple of purses. We try to call/contact the people using id's and whatever we can find with a name on it. We rarely get anywhere in tracking them down and they rarely ever come asking for the stuff.

Karma man, it's all karma.

I should mention that 99% of the time an employee is the person that turns in the ones we do have, and the 1% of customers who turn found items in always leave a name and number where they can be reached, you know, in case of reward.

Conclusion, never carry absurd amounts of cash (there's $1300 sitting in a purse in my safe) and put your phone number somewhere in there, please, kthxbye.
posted by M Edward at 3:06 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why people expect a cash reward for doing the right thing - especially something so simple as returning what doesn't belong to you.
posted by katillathehun at 3:11 PM on October 3, 2007


I don't understand why people expect a cash reward for doing the right thing - especially something so simple as returning what doesn't belong to you.

Because doing the wrong thing gets them money.
posted by 23skidoo at 3:13 PM on October 3, 2007 [5 favorites]


At the airport the other day, my daughter and I noticed a folded $5 on the floor at the same time. She picked it up, and I told her we needed to take it over to the nearby information desk. As we headed over there, my daughter unfolded the bill only to discover that it wasn't a real bill, but said inside "Disappointed? Jesus will never let you down!".

I was inclined to turn it in anyway, but we threw it away instead.
posted by padraigin at 3:17 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't think that the non-returners are necessarily "dishonest"; they could simply be "apathetic".

I don't know if not returning a found wallet make's a person dishonest technically but it definitely makes them a huge jerk and if they spend the money they found despite knowing who it rightfully belongs to it certainly makes them a thief.
posted by Jess the Mess at 3:17 PM on October 3, 2007


Hey, M Edward. Um, I lost my purse, man. In your store!
posted by redteam at 3:19 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Not that I can read the results anyway as the website won't allow me to scroll down.
posted by Jess the Mess at 3:20 PM on October 3, 2007


But the first time I dropped my wallet, it was in a movie theatre in a mall in Calgary. When I realized I drove back to the mall but by that time it was all closed up. There was a Sikh guy inside sweeping the floor and he came over when I came up to the doors. He didn't speak English so I kind of pantomimed losing a wallet, and in response he took a five dollar bill out of his wallet and tried to give it to me. Nice guy.
But when I finally did get back to the cinema the next day sure enough my wallet had been turned in by some little puke that worked in there, but all the (little) money had been taken out of it.
posted by Flashman at 3:28 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


As we headed over there, my daughter unfolded the bill only to discover that it wasn't a real bill, but said inside "Disappointed? Jesus will never let you down!".

Ok, that's funny.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:30 PM on October 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Um, where was this test conducted that there are only white and black people? That seems awfully fishy.
posted by Jess the Mess at 3:31 PM on October 3, 2007


This is only like 1/10th the sample size of the that study of civilian mortality rates in Iraq and that was described as a fairly enormous sample size.

I realise this isn't particularly as well exectued, but the sample size seems to be the least of this studies problems.
posted by public at 3:32 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's a hell of a nice thing to do, sure, but to my mind, "finders keepers" and all that.

Sure, when I bang up your car in the parking lot, I should leave you a note and contact info, but "sux2BU" and all that.
posted by dreamsign at 3:34 PM on October 3, 2007


Um, where was this test conducted that there are only white and black people?

Q: Where did the experiment take place?
A: In a medium-sized American city named "Belleville, Illinois".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belleville,_Illinois#Demographics
posted by 23skidoo at 3:34 PM on October 3, 2007


Disappointed? Jesus will never let you down!

He just fucking did!
posted by maxwelton at 3:35 PM on October 3, 2007 [7 favorites]


Sucky methodology.

If someone saw me drop the wallet and stopped me before I had a chance to walk away - then that is considered "Returned" as well.

No, that's radically different from the other "returned" scenarios and should be considered a botched trial.

100 identical wallets were dropped in various public places

Different environments will almost certainly have an effect on returning behavior. This needs to be controlled.

And, as many have pointed out, this has nothing to do with honesty at all. What were they trying to test for? This page really needs a "discussion" section like at the end of most normal psychology papers. Otherwise, this "study" has given us nothing more than meaningless numbers.
posted by painquale at 3:44 PM on October 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


At the airport the other day, my daughter and I noticed a folded $5 on the floor at the same time. She picked it up, and I told her we needed to take it over to the nearby information desk. As we headed over there, my daughter unfolded the bill only to discover that it wasn't a real bill, but said inside "Disappointed? Jesus will never let you down!".

Jesus tips with those things, too. He's a right bastard when He gets a chalice or two of un-processed Christ's Blood in Him.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:48 PM on October 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Why is everyone falling all over themselves to 'disprove' this 'study'? I'm sure if the demographics were a little less controversial, that wouldn't be the case. The study is not scientific, but it is interesting. Just let it go without the knee-jerk.
posted by Edgewise at 3:53 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


Silentgoldfish: "Over 30 is middle aged? Over 50 is old? Was the test done in Angola?"

I like this definition and have always thought the conventional definition was a bit deluded. The average American man lives to be about 76. So if there's youth, middle age, and old age, youth ends just past 25 and middle age ends around 50.
posted by aerotive at 3:54 PM on October 3, 2007


What struck me as the most curious was their ability to get exactly 51 women and 49 men. It just seemed less than random.
posted by klangklangston at 3:54 PM on October 3, 2007




I consider myself a basically honest person, if I found a wallet containing $2.10 and nothing that would be hard for the owner to replace, I'm not sure how far out of the way I'd go to return it.

This whole thing seems painfully contrived.

(And for those of you playing along somewhere not within easy driving distance of Belleville, let's just say it's not the city you'd hold on high as an example of universal brotherhood and leave it at that.)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:03 PM on October 3, 2007


All this Kinsella just makes me think of Cap'n Jazz.
posted by klangklangston at 4:04 PM on October 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Their honest/dishonest dichotomy is fatally flawed, because everyone who walked by the wallet without picking it up counts as honest.

When you see something that's not yours lying around unattended, the honest thing to do is to leave it where it is. If everyone did this, then when the owner realized it was missing and retraced his steps it would still be there.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:07 PM on October 3, 2007


I like the comment made above: what race/age/sex was the supposed "owner" of the wallet?

If there was a marked tendency for people to return wallets to someone their own race/age/sex that would be another skew.

The study is not scientific, but it is interesting. Just let it go without the knee-jerk.

This is crap posing as science and deserves to be debunked. I'm not sure what "let it go" means....
posted by vacapinta at 4:10 PM on October 3, 2007


Paul Kinsella has too much time on his hands and thinks that websites are awesome! next
posted by blacklite at 4:12 PM on October 3, 2007


Nevermind how bogus it is, this is boring. It's not nearly as interesting as that one where the guy leaves a wallet on a busy sidewalk and nobody picks it up because he drew a chalk circle around it.
posted by Reggie Digest at 4:12 PM on October 3, 2007


When you see something that's not yours lying around unattended, the honest thing to do is to leave it where it is. If everyone did this, then when the owner realized it was missing and retraced his steps it would still be there.

That was my first reaction: man, in Japan the return rate would be zero, cause nobody would pick it up in the first place. Purse at a bus stop, actual bills sticking out of an ATM, all just passed by in my direct experience.
posted by dreamsign at 4:27 PM on October 3, 2007


Though to be fair, that's probably partly honesty and partly "this is nothing to do with me".
posted by dreamsign at 4:28 PM on October 3, 2007


M Edward, back in my casino hounding days I used to feel positively naked if I didn't have at least $700 in my wallet, and it wasn't uncommon for me to have $3000 especially after a good weekend or a tournament win. That said, I also learned much earlier than that to never, ever lose my wallet. I keep it in a front pocket and I am pretty constantly aware of it, and the one time someone tried to pick it I had my hand on his wrist before he got his fingers on the wallet.

[checks wallet] Right now I've got about $30. Need to ask the wife for more money.
posted by localroger at 4:29 PM on October 3, 2007


Papers come out all the time with much smaller sample sizes. Statistics rocks.
posted by zach4000 at 4:34 PM on October 3, 2007


This is crap posing as science

Science? Where do you see that claim? Maybe I didn't read closely enough.
posted by Edgewise at 4:43 PM on October 3, 2007


This is crap posing as science

It's not even that. It's crap posing as crap. Metacrap, in other words.
posted by IronLizard at 5:03 PM on October 3, 2007


The strange thing is that it's clearly a traffic-generating strategy, yet there are no ads on the pages.

Or is that my adblocking?
posted by Mr. Gunn at 5:08 PM on October 3, 2007


Not even that. It's a cheesy web-based advertising business posing as something interesting.
posted by Miko at 5:10 PM on October 3, 2007


Was it the intention of this experiment to make any particular group look bad, reinforce stereotypes nor to further a hidden agenda of any kind?
posted by Bonzai at 5:10 PM on October 3, 2007



Was it the intention of this experiment to make any particular group look bad, reinforce stereotypes nor to further a hidden agenda of any kind?


If I told you the answer to that, I wouldn't be able to steal your wallet tomorrow. You will never see it coming this time.
posted by DMan at 5:18 PM on October 3, 2007


If you want to test people's honesty, drop the wallet and then have someone approach them a few minutes later and ask if they saw a wallet anywhere. What these people are testing is people's willingness to take on a pain in the ass chore to save a stranger $2.00.
posted by facetious at 5:32 PM on October 3, 2007


So to pretend to lose one's wallet(s), thereby forcing kind, thoughtful people to go out of their way to return the fake things? I mean, who are the assholes here? I vote that its the fake wallet losers.
posted by R. Mutt at 5:41 PM on October 3, 2007


In most cases, it is peace of mind that is restored, not fiscal solvency, with the return of a misplaced wallet. Knowing that someone out there decided not to run up your credit cards, if you have them, or pirate your ID, is worth more than the meager wad of bills that lurks in the typical wallet.
posted by Mister_A at 5:42 PM on October 3, 2007


Using the statistics from this test and the observations from the readers digest test the only hypothesis I can come to is that black people in Belleville are rich.
posted by seanyboy at 5:46 PM on October 3, 2007


I have had upwards of 10 wallets returned to me in my life. I have this habit of always removing it from my back pocket when I sit down. The best one was about 2 days before a holiday to Fiji and I left the wallet, the pack with tickets, cash and T.cheques all on the roof of the car and drove off. About 12 hours later I got a call from a Police station and the whole lot had been handed in. The good Samaritan was there when I arrived and I went over and put $200 in his top pocket.
posted by peacay at 5:57 PM on October 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


Like Bonzai, I'm confused on the issue of whether it was their intention to make a particular group look bad, or perhaps to reinforce stereotypes or further some hidden agenda.

Can someone clarify that for me?

PS - Real scientists don't apologize for their results.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:20 PM on October 3, 2007


This test is crap and really doesn't belong metafilter. We shouldnt' be encouraging horse-shit like this.
posted by empath at 6:30 PM on October 3, 2007


How can you claim not to have an agenda, and then show a chart like this? Christ, what an asshole.
posted by tehloki at 6:35 PM on October 3, 2007


Every psychology major has seen this before.

Next.
posted by limeonaire at 6:42 PM on October 3, 2007


I like pie.
posted by Iron Rat at 6:54 PM on October 3, 2007


As I implied earlier, I live not too far from Belleville and Mr. Kinsella's name sounded vaguely familiar to me so I started poking around trying to find a picture of him.

If he's hoping for traffic my first piece of advise for him would be to avoid crimes against HTMLanity such as a two megapixle black and white scan of a page out of a newspaper.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:00 PM on October 3, 2007


I don't see how returning a wallet says you're either honest or dishonest. It's a hell of a nice thing to do, sure, but to my mind, "finders keepers" and all that.

"Finders keepers" only applies when there's no feasible way of finding the rightful owner. If I found a hundred dollars on the sidewalk, I'd keep it. If I found a wallet with the owner's name and address in it, then I'd return it.
posted by orange swan at 7:01 PM on October 3, 2007


This test is worthless without pictures. How black were these "black" people? Are we talking black black, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, quintroon or even hexadecaroon? What about yellow people? Also, why no red indians? Or albinos?
posted by meehawl at 7:10 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is a little weird. This text is viewable in page source, but gradually covered by pie charts as the page is loading:
Some questions that this sociological experiment might be able to help answer are: "Do men steal more then women?", "Do black people steal more then white people?", "Do young people steal more then old people?", "Why is the crime rate higher in predominately black neighborhoods?", "Why is there an improportionate number of black people in jail?", "Why are there so many more men in prison then women?", "Why is the prison population mostly men?". The keyword list for this website is as follows: racial profiling, wallets, racial profiling statistics, crime, lost wallets, prejudice, discrimination, sex discrimination, sexism, crime statistics, age discrimination, race, honesty, racial discrimination, honesty testing, black people, white people, racism, stealing, theft" Some questions that this sociological experiment might be able to help answer are: "Do men steal more then women?", "Do black people steal more then white people?", "Do young people steal more then old people?", "Why is the crime rate higher in predominately black neighborhoods?", "Why is there an improportionate number of black people in jail?", "Why are there so many more men in prison then women?", "Why is the prison population mostly men?". The keyword list for this website is as follows: racial profiling, wallets, racial profiling statistics, crime, lost wallets, prejudice, discrimination, sex discrimination, sexism, crime statistics, age discrimination, race, honesty, racial discrimination, honesty testing, black people, white people, racism, stealing, theft.
But empath is the rightest-on commenter here.
posted by Miko at 7:49 PM on October 3, 2007


"As we headed over there, my daughter unfolded the bill only to discover that it wasn't a real bill, but said inside "Disappointed? Jesus will never let you down!".

"Ok, that's funny."


NO! It's not! I first ran into this when I was younger and absolutely destitute. I saw a $10 bill lying on the ground, and I certainly wasn't going to turn it in to the security guard, I was going to buy food with it. I've hated Jesus ever since.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:55 PM on October 3, 2007


I lost my wallet ten years ago, a week prior to moving from Michigan to Texas. I needed those credit cards to get there.

It was returned by some guy.
posted by Doohickie at 8:03 PM on October 3, 2007


I found a wallet in the bike lane near my house. I stopped and pedaled back to pick it up; it contained a few minor scraps of paper and a sixteen year-old's learner driver's permit that had been issued a few days before. When I dropped it off, i got a "Merry Christmas!" in return.

I also recently found a sheaf of medical records in a parking lot; they were for a five-year old boy. Named Anakin.

I gasped for breath and tugged at my collar nervously--mailed them back the next day.
posted by JDC8 at 8:17 PM on October 3, 2007


"Q: What were you trying to prove with your "Wallet Test"?
A: Nothing, really. We were just curious as to how honest people in general would be. We also wanted to see how different races, genders and age groups would compare to each other."


I'm still wondering why they wanted to see how different races, genders and age groups would compare to each other. Why those qualities, and not others - religion, nationality, sexual orientation, meat eaters, for example?

What would have been very interesting is to view different people's definition of honesty, or sense of community obligation. But I suppose they didn't ask.

We're sort of assuming there is a default 'right' answer here. People who return the wallet are 'honest', and those who don't are 'dishonest' - and that means 'something'.
posted by anitanita at 9:13 PM on October 3, 2007


Also From Dr-Baa's link:
in Lausanne, Switzerland only two wallets were returned (one by an Albanian restaurant owner).

I love Scandinavia too, but I've never really trusted the Swiss.
posted by eye of newt at 11:37 PM on October 3, 2007


As Miko first noted, the authors of the website are not trying to prove anything with their "Wallet Test," except maybe how they can drive traffic and attention to a website without providing any content of value.

In other words:
  1. Make website on topic of theft, insinuating that certain groups of people are more dishonest than other groups (a proven way to garner attention). Claim that this is not what you are doing and that you are just "curious" about how honest everyone in general is*.
  2. ???
  3. Ride the meme wave to profit!
* Which is obviously untrue, for if they were only interested in the general population there would be no reason to break the results down into groups.
posted by moonbiter at 11:47 PM on October 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


I take issue with the wallet being returned sans money being classified as stolen. I found a wallet on the street. No money in it. Looked the guy up in the phone book and gave him a call. He said he'd had about $100 in it. I said it wasn't there. He accused me of having stolen it. I informed him I would be more than willing to drop the wallet back on the sidewalk I found it on so someone would have a chance to rape his credit cards and steal his identity (it had every form of ID imaginable in it). He simmered down after that, but I am certain he still continued to think I had taken the money (which I hadn't -- I found it that way).

So, just because it's empty when returned doesn't mean the returner was the one who took it, and there really isn't any way to know, is there?

After that, I never picked up a lost wallet or purse again, unless it was somewhere I could turn it in to managers/authorities/whatever, because I did not need the hassle or potential accusations.
posted by Orb at 2:34 AM on October 4, 2007


I take issue with the wallet being returned sans money being classified as stolen.

Your story is not really applicable to this situation since the people doing the test would know if someone else had tampered with the wallet before the identified subject picked it up.
posted by grouse at 2:51 AM on October 4, 2007


We're sort of assuming there is a default 'right' answer here. People who return the wallet are 'honest', and those who don't are 'dishonest' - and that means 'something'.

I still don't get the people who are saying this. So you don't consider it the "right" thing to do to return a lost wallet? When someone does return the wallet it doesn't mean that they are in some way more ethical or moral than those who don't (barring some extreme extenuating circumstances)?
posted by Jess the Mess at 5:27 AM on October 4, 2007


When I was 19 or so, I found a purse outside of denny's. it was midnight, and it belonged to what looked like a college girl. I took it home, and thought about stealing the money out of it, but couldn't, but didn't know what to do with it. It had a wallet with a drivers license, she lived about 20 minutes from me.

A week later I dropped it in a USPS blue mailbox, money and all. I hope she got it back.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:17 AM on October 4, 2007


To address an earlier tangent, I consider "middle-aged" to be a convenient, albeit outdated and inaccurate, label for the stage of life roughly between 30 and 40 years of age. It's similar to the term "Midwest," which we still use despite most of the region lying east of the Mississippi River.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:28 AM on October 4, 2007


Too small a sample.

100 ain't much of a sample

You realize there's defined statistical tests for this kind of thing, right? That whether a sample is too small or not is not based merely on your gut feeling of whether it's too small or not?

In fact, the gender specific results (only one I've looked at so far) are statistically significant (i.e., the sample size is sufficiently large) according to Fisher's exact test.

Now, tests such as these cannot determine whether systematic error is a factor (e.g., they did not control for income in these tests). But increasing the sample size doesn't help in the case of systematic error. (E.g., if the test was done at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday, you may be excluding most people who work 9-5 M-F jobs, which may affect your results, but you can't fix that just by increasing the sample size--you'll get the same systematic error whether you look at 100 people around 2 p.m. on a Tuesday or 10000 people around 2 p.m. on a Tuesday.)

There's many reasons the results here may not mean what they seem to at first glance, but "too small a sample" does not appear to be one of them.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:03 AM on October 4, 2007


That's interesting, DevilsAdvocate. I am no statistician. But really, the field would support the statement that 100 people, half male, half female, would be enough to support a meaningful answer to the question "Are men or women more honest?"

I'm genuinely curious. Because with only 100 people, how can you have enough diversity in the sample to control for variations in age, religion, culture, intellect, income level, level of education...all the things that might influence a statement that appears to be about gender? How is that dealt with?
posted by Miko at 10:23 AM on October 4, 2007


That's interesting, DevilsAdvocate. I am no statistician. But really, the field would support the statement that 100 people, half male, half female, would be enough to support a meaningful answer to the question "Are men or women more honest?"

I'm genuinely curious. Because with only 100 people, how can you have enough diversity in the sample to control for variations in age, religion, culture, intellect, income level, level of education...all the things that might influence a statement that appears to be about gender? How is that dealt with?
posted by Miko at 10:23 AM on October 4, 2007


I think that people need to return what doesn't belong to them, especially when there is clear identification. That said, I hate it when I return something and barely even get a thank you. There should be an etiquette rule of thumb that states the person having the items returned should give a 25% reward or something.
posted by FinanceGuy8 at 10:30 AM on October 4, 2007


A sincere "thank you" is enough for me, but it's true, some people won't even give you that.
posted by Jess the Mess at 11:07 AM on October 4, 2007


It's one of those questions of personal ethics. In the end, I have to live with myself. Doing a considerate thing benefits me directly, because it allows me to build and keep an opinion of myself that is positive. When I do shitty things, I find them pretty hard to live with. In the end, you've got to decide "What kind of person do I want to be?" It's true that most people will never be privy to all the decisions you make, and there are times you could get away with stealing, lying, and so on. But our actions impact ourselves even when no one else is there to see them.

IT's too bad when you do something nice for people and they don't thank you, but that's on them and their ill breeding and is not a reaction to you. I think it's pretty childish to expect to be rewarded for every good thing you do. There's an intrinsic reward you get just from meeting a personal ethical standard. If you depend too much on extrinsic reward, your ethics become situational, and that's kind of bad for society.
posted by Miko at 11:18 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


But really, the field would support the statement that 100 people, half male, half female, would be enough to support a meaningful answer to the question "Are men or women more honest?"

The question of how large a sample is necessary cannot be answered with a number alone - it depends on just how unequal the two groups are.

As a thought experiment, let's assume we're taking a truly random sample of the population, and have controlled for other extraneous factors such as income, so there's no systematic bias in our test. Let's also suppose that returning the wallet or not actually is an indicator of that nebulous quality we call "honesty."

Now, if 90% of women return the wallet, and only 10% of men do, a sample size of just 10 of each might be enough to demonstrate a statistically significant difference between the two. OTOH, if 72% of all women return the wallet, and 71% of men do, even a sample size of a thousand of each would not be enough to demonstrate a difference - but that doesn't mean that there isn't a difference.

Or look at it this way: suppose you have 100 coins: 98 are perfectly fair; 1 is two-headed, so it always comes up heads (it's a thought experiment, so we'll add the completely arbitrary restriction that you can't just look at both sides and see; you can only flip it and observe which side is facing up); 1 is slightly weighted and comes up heads 53% of the time. How long does it take you to find the two-headed coin? How long does it take you to find the other unfair coin?

Because with only 100 people, how can you have enough diversity in the sample to control for variations in age, religion, culture, intellect, income level, level of education...all the things that might influence a statement that appears to be about gender?

There's two separate possible questions, there, and I'm not sure which one you're asking, so I'll try to address each in turn. Just as an example, let's take income level as the additional factor.

If you mean that, say, men overall might have higher incomes than women, then that's not a random bias. That's a systematic bias, and those can't be detected by tests of statistical significance (unless income is one of the factors you're including in the test). But, in that case, it's still not a question of sample size. If, in a sample of 100, you see more men keeping the wallet than women because men overall have higher incomes, but you don't know that because you didn't ask about incomes, then it doesn't help if you look at 10000 people instead of 100--men still have higher incomes than women, and you still get a higher percentage of men than women keeping the wallet, and you still don't know it's really because of income instead of gender. Merely increasing the sample size doesn't help in that case. Asking people what their income is and taking it into account would help, and the fact that the "researchers" here did not do so is a legitimate criticism. (OK, it's probably counterintuitive that higher incomes would be more likely to keep the wallet, so income vs. gender probably wasn't the best example, but it's the principle I'm trying to illustrate, not those two specific factors.)

If, OTOH, you mean that the overall income of men and women may be equal, but just by chance the income of the men observed is different than the income of the women observed, and it's that which is causing the observed difference between men and women, then that's actually not an issue for a test of statistical significance. The thing to understand is that when we say some observed difference is statistically significant, that's not a guarantee of an actual difference, it's just saying that observing such a difference would happen fairly infrequently in cases when there was no actual difference - 5% is generally used as the cutoff. If we flip a coin 20 times and get 17 heads and 3 tails, we say that's statistically significant. We do not mean that we have proved, beyond all doubt, that the coin is unfair; we mean that if the coin were fair, we would expect to see results that uneven less than 5% of the time. The point here is that the test of statistical significance applies whether there's some intermediate third factor (as long as there's no systematic bias) or not. If men and women did have equal incomes overall, but differing incomes were correlated with different levels of "honesty," then it would be less than 5% likely that the income distribution in our observed sample would be biased to the extent to cause the difference we've seen there.

Or to summarize those two paragraphs, if you're saying:
Gender <-----correlated-----> Income <-----correlated-----> Honesty
that's a legitimate criticism, but not one which can be answered by tests of statistical significance (at least not without measuring the intermediate factor), and increasing the sample size won't help, as long as you're still not measuring income.

But if you're saying
Gender <---not correlated---> Income <-----correlated-----> Honesty
then the test is still good; saying the difference is statistically significant is saying that it's unlikely (less than 5% likely) that a sample of a group with no actual difference would show a difference that large by chance--regardless of whether that difference is a difference in Honesty alone, or a difference in Honesty which is a result of a difference in Income.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:30 AM on October 4, 2007


it's unlikely (less than 5% likely) that a sample of a group with no actual difference would show a difference that large by chance

That pretty much answers my question.

Your description also helps me understand how narrowly defined studies must be to be useful at all, and to understand why laypeople tend to vastly over-interpret study data.
posted by Miko at 11:42 AM on October 4, 2007


A few notes:
1. Is $2.10 enough to pay the postage to mail it back? How far was the wallet from the owner's address? I'm not driving 30 minutes to return $2, and I'm not even sure I'm going to bother dropping it the mail, but if I do, I wouldn't feel dishonest if I subtracted the postage from the contents (and I'd probably round up to the nearest dollar). If there's a phone number, I'll give it a call, but that's about the extent of my effort.

2. How realistic was the gift certificate? If it's clear it's fake, the finder may have determined there was no real value, or at least not one worth his trouble.

3. How do they know people didn't abandon the wallet? With only $2, people could have just re-dropped it, assuming someone else can go through the hassle of returning it.

I think for the majority of people there's a sweet spot where the value is enough for them to feel sympathetic, yet not large enough to seem life altering to them. If the wallet contains either two little or too much, it can alter how people react . I'd be interested in what the limits are (if they exist), and if there's any uniformity (say % of income for example).
posted by ShadowCrash at 12:12 PM on October 4, 2007


Very poorly designed study and very poorly designed framework to interpret it.

You can have a shitty study that is still a study. The problem comes when media (including credible community blogs like ours and credible reporters who should know better) put a lot of stock in a shitty study and start taking it seriously.

This study is shitty. Its sensationalist interpretations are shitty (from a scholarly discipline point of view and from an ethical point of view). I suggest we all move along and find something else more interesting to talk about.
posted by kalessin at 1:15 PM on October 4, 2007


The validity of this test aside, I want to sincerely thank the creators of the site for not calling it "The Wallet Project." I am so goddamn sick of all those twee "projects" bloggers are always conducting. Enough already.
posted by Ian A.T. at 1:42 AM on October 5, 2007


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