Surprising 'Lost Wallet' Study Finds Most People Will Return Your Money

People are a lot more generous than we think.

All across the globe, people are more likely to return a lost wallet than keep the contents for themselves.

During a global study of 17,000 "lost" wallets in 40 countries, 51 percent of the wallets were returned to the people whose information was left inside. The more money inside the wallet, the more often it was returned to its owner.

"We mistakenly assume that our fellow human beings are selfish," Alain Cohn the first author of the study, told The Guardian. "In reality their self-image as an honest person is more important to them than a short-term monetary gain."


Before the study, more than 2,500 people were polled on whether they thought people would return the wallets more often than not. A majority of the respondents incorrectly guessed that people who found the wallets would act in their own self-interest. 

Approximately 40 percent of people who found an empty wallet went through the trouble of reporting it. But when the wallet had a large amount of money in it, a whopping 72 percent of the people who found the wallet contacted the person whose information was inside to return it. The results were published in Science Magazine, where the authors noted that both non-experts and professional economists incorrectly predicted people would be more selfish than they actually were. 

"People want to see themselves as an honest person, not as a thief. Keeping a found wallet means having to adapt one's self-image, which comes with psychological costs," Michel Mar├ęchal, a professor of economics at the University of Zurich and a co-author, said to The Guardian. "The psychological forces... can be stronger than the financial ones."


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