Such a Lonely Word

December 14, 2006
Posted by Jay Livingston

You find a wallet in the street, one of those inexpensive nylon jobs. It has two singles, a dime, a $50 gift certificate, a shopping list, and an ID card with name, phone and address. What do you do? shows the results of a field experiment in honesty. I don’t know how long the Wallet Test website has been up—the press release is dated this month— but it’s new to me.

Paul Kinsella videotaped people finding the wallet and kept data on who tried to return it and who didn’t. Kinsella is not a social scientist, and you can find flaws in his methodology.

The results — the demographics of honesty— are about what you’d expect, and you can see brief videos of people picking up the wallet. You can even listen to phone conversations with three people who called trying to get information so they could cash the $50 gift certificate. Kinsella's end of the conversation departs from the standard social science debriefing protocol. Or as Kinsella says of one caller, “My goal was to try to keep this schmuck on the phone for as long as possible.”

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