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Thread: Civic honesty around the globe

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    Civic honesty around the globe

    I could have posted this in the BABBling "Happy" thread...

    Unexpected results of a field test of people's civic honesty:

    Alain Cohn, Michel Andrť Marťchal, David Tannenbaum, Christian Lukas ZŁnd
    Science 05 Jul 2019: Vol. 365, Issue 6448, pp. 70-73 DOI: 10.1126/science.aau8712

    Abstract
    Civic honesty is essential to social capital and economic development but is often in conflict with material self-interest. We examine the trade-off between honesty and self-interest using field experiments in 355 cities spanning 40 countries around the globe. In these experiments, we turned in more than 17,000 lost wallets containing varying amounts of money at public and private institutions and measured whether recipients contacted the owners to return the wallets. In virtually all countries, citizens were more likely to return wallets that contained more money. Neither nonexperts nor professional economists were able to predict this result. Additional data suggest that our main findings can be explained by a combination of altruistic concerns and an aversion to viewing oneself as a thief, both of which increase with the material benefits of dishonesty.
    They included a key in the wallet in a sub-sample. The key would have no value to the recipient of the wallet, but its loss would potentially cause inconvenience to its owner. Recipients were, on average, 9.2 percentage points more likely to report a wallet with a key than one without.

    They asked a sample of 279 "top-performing academic economists", and 299 general public participants to predict reporting rates for wallets containing varied amounts of money. Both the general public and the academics tended to overestimate the influence of self-interest over altruistic concerns for the owner, and thus thought that fewer of the high-cash wallets would be reported compared with the low- or no-cash wallets.

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    Very interesting.

    Back in college I took a course in Environmental Psychology, which is how environmental factors affect behavior. The classic examples of this are people's emotional responses to wall colors (is the color calming) and how people react to overcrowding. We even did some little experiments on something called the "good neighbor effect", which is how well you know someone, even casually, influences what you might do for them - saving a seat for someone in a crowded theatre is influenced by whether they talked with you or not before they asked you to save their seat.

    I wonder if professional environmental psychologists might have done better than economists on predicting these results.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Swift View Post
    ... The classic examples of this are people's emotional responses to wall colors (is the color calming) and how people react to overcrowding.
    My ex-wife and I used to do a lot of entertaining. The people she hired to help with the interior design of a house we built made a point of choosing colours that supposedly would help stimulate conversation. (Though it didn't seem to help us get through the problems that drove us apart...)

    I wonder if professional environmental psychologists might have done better than economists on predicting these results.
    On closer reading, the paper indicates that the general public sampled for their predictions were from USA, and they were making predictions about Americans' behaviour. The economists were also making predictions of expected American's behaviour, but it is not clear to me whether the sampled group was international or also strictly American. But the ecomonomists were "less wrong" than the general public.

    Not surprisingly, the authors have backgrounds in psychology and economics. I wonder if this result about the incorrect predictions is an example of sampling WEIRDos - people from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic countries. Other societies might understand their peers better.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Torsten View Post
    My ex-wife and I used to do a lot of entertaining. The people she hired to help with the interior design of a house we built made a point of choosing colours that supposedly would help stimulate conversation. (Though it didn't seem to help us get through the problems that drove us apart...).
    Sorry about your relationship breakup....but that sounds like the opening 3 sentences of an Italo Calvino short story.
    "It's only a model....?" :-)
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    Frankly, I would imagine the factor in being more likely to return wallets with more money would be the hope of a reward.
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    Quote Originally Posted by plant View Post
    ...but that sounds like the opening 3 sentences of an Italo Calvino short story.
    Haha. And that's as much as you'd get... I can assure you that I'm incapable of writing a short story that anyone would want to read.

    I had to read the wiki about him.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    Frankly, I would imagine the factor in being more likely to return wallets with more money would be the hope of a reward.
    That would be part of it, but itís also a question of how much sympathy you feel toward the person who lost it, and how much of your self valuation is based on being a good person. Thereís also a bit of acting the way others around you act. I return things, and Iím sure itís possibly because Iím influenced by the fact that most people here will do it. There is a tradition of giving something back to the person who returned something, but in fact there are people who return things anonymously because they want to avoid being given a gift.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    That would be part of it, but it’s also a question of how much sympathy you feel toward the person who lost it, and how much of your self valuation is based on being a good person. There’s also a bit of acting the way others around you act. I return things, and I’m sure it’s possibly because I’m influenced by the fact that most people here will do it. There is a tradition of giving something back to the person who returned something, but in fact there are people who return things anonymously because they want to avoid being given a gift.
    I think a lot of people operate according to Kant's Categorical Imperative, even if they've never heard of it. What would I want someone to do if they found my wallet? OK, that's what I'll do.
    I confess it had never occurred to me that people might give you a reward for making a small effort to return their property.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Civic honesty around the globe

    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    I think a lot of people operate according to Kant's Categorical Imperative, even if they've never heard of it. What would I want someone to do if they found my wallet? OK, that's what I'll do.
    I confess it had never occurred to me that people might give you a reward for making a small effort to return their property.
    I agree. I think I generally operate according to that. The problem in the US may be that people see that others donít operate based on it, and they decide that they are losing out if they do what they would instinctively do.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    I agree. I think I generally operate according to that. The problem in the US may be that people see that others don’t operate based on it, and they decide that they are losing out if they do what they would instinctively do.
    I don't think that attitude is by any means restricted to the USA, though societies do of course differ in the way they view the balance between actions that lead to personal gain and actions for the greater good.
    And some people do seem to take the concept of "losing out" amazingly seriously. I was once offered a free newspaper in a local shop, because my lunchtime food purchases qualified for the offer. When I said I didn't want it, the assistant was so incredulous that he just kept repeating "But it's free!" and not accepting the money I was trying to give him. At one point he suggested I could just put it in the recycling bin outside the shop if I didn't want it.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    I don't think that attitude is by any means restricted to the USA, though societies do of course differ in the way they view the balance between actions that lead to personal gain and actions for the greater good.
    And some people do seem to take the concept of "losing out" amazingly seriously. I was once offered a free newspaper in a local shop, because my lunchtime food purchases qualified for the offer. When I said I didn't want it, the assistant was so incredulous that he just kept repeating "But it's free!" and not accepting the money I was trying to give him. At one point he suggested I could just put it in the recycling bin outside the shop if I didn't want it.

    Grant Hutchison
    Maybe they were measured by how many they gave away?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Maybe they were measured by how many they gave away?
    Maybe. Odd to tie the give-away to some particular "meal deal" if so, since the assistant has no power over how many meal deals people buy. And if someone was really counting up the meal deals and matching against newspaper giveaways, the assistant had the options I proposed to him at the time - cut out the middle man and recycle the newspaper himself (the bin was right outside the shop door) or give the newspaper to some other customer who didn't qualify for the deal, like the people who were standing sighing behind me in the queue while this odd drama unfolded.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Maybe. Odd to tie the give-away to some particular "meal deal" if so, since the assistant has no power over how many meal deals people buy. And if someone was really counting up the meal deals and matching against newspaper giveaways, the assistant had the options I proposed to him at the time - cut out the middle man and recycle the newspaper himself (the bin was right outside the shop door) or give the newspaper to some other customer who didn't qualify for the deal, like the people who were standing sighing behind me in the queue while this odd drama unfolded.
    It's likely not that unusual for assistants or servers to receive a bonus for special offerings by a restaurant, perhaps more so for chain restaurants. My guess is that such was in play in your case.

    [We, my wife and I, have become friends with several servers at a local breakfast place -- I just had their pumpkin pancake in honor of Trebuchet and to help with disposal of the recent, potential extra pumpkin mush on the market -- where they have been given bonuses for selling their "Kale Cooler". It's a bit expensive but it's tasty thanks to the apple and cucumber flavoring included, I suppose. Kat is our preferred server there and she adds blueberries to it making it a "Kat Cooler", as we called it. The restaurant changed the name to "Kale Tonic", so it's now a "Katatonic". Adding cucumber vodka is surprisingly nice.]

    I'm not familiar with Kant's Categorical Imperative but it seems to be another way of stating the Golden Rule.

    It would be interesting if the study compared results from distinctly different cities. Returning wallets, with no interest of reward, is a test of morality, no doubt.
    We know time flies, we just can't see its wings.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    I agree. I think I generally operate according to that. The problem in the US may be that people see that others donít operate based on it, and they decide that they are losing out if they do what they would instinctively do.
    However, the study showed that while a majority of Americans may think their neighbours will behave to avoid "losing out", their actual behaviour is to act honestly.

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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    It's likely not that unusual for assistants or servers to receive a bonus for special offerings by a restaurant, perhaps more so for chain restaurants. My guess is that such was in play in your case.
    Yet it seems curiously unworkable in practice. (Though heaven knows, I've worked in many jobs in which curiously unworkable terms and conditions have been applied.) And while this guy had a free choice of how to persuade me to take the damn paper, he resorted to the repetitive utterance of "But it's free!" He could have said, "Look, mate, I'm paid by the paper I shift," or "Look, mate, I need to shift these papers to stay in work," or "Look, mate, if I shift another forty-seven of these ghastly articles before I finish my shift, it's worth a tenner to me." So the choice of the phrase "But it's free!" would still be a striking reflection on human nature, would it not?

    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    I'm not familiar with Kant's Categorical Imperative but it seems to be another way of stating the Golden Rule.
    Yes, it's pretty much a very generalized version of the Golden Rule, but I wanted to avoid specific religious associations, even at the risk of introducing deontological moral philosophy instead:

    Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    Frankly, I would imagine the factor in being more likely to return wallets with more money would be the hope of a reward.
    They tested for this by conducting national representative surveys in USA, UK, and Poland. 42% of respondents did not expect a reward at all. There was no indication that a higher expected reward was related to respondents' stated likelihood of reporting the wallet. They concluded "Overall, the prospect of a financial reward is unlikely to explain the monotonic increase in reporting rates".

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    Don't accept the reward, or being paid back. Instead, suggest they pay it forward.

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    A comparable, but different study is the [likely highly flawed] marshmallow test (https://www.theatlantic.com/family/a...w-test/561779/), which seems mostly to show that poor children are more improvident than rich ones. Of course, it's more complex than that: poor kids are likely to have fewer opportunities for treats and may be more likely to see the people lined up in front of them use up all the treats before they get that marshmallow.
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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Yet it seems curiously unworkable in practice. (Though heaven knows, I've worked in many jobs in which curiously unworkable terms and conditions have been applied.) And while this guy had a free choice of how to persuade me to take the damn paper, he resorted to the repetitive utterance of "But it's free!" He could have said, "Look, mate, I'm paid by the paper I shift," or "Look, mate, I need to shift these papers to stay in work," or "Look, mate, if I shift another forty-seven of these ghastly articles before I finish my shift, it's worth a tenner to me." So the choice of the phrase "But it's free!" would still be a striking reflection on human nature, would it not?
    Just guessing, but perhaps the paper publisher had a marketing scheme to reward the food service in order to build circulation by an allusion of value tied to the food sale. Or, the last 10 customers smiled when they heard "free" and he sought your smile as well, especially if he thought you looked like a doctor or someone special.
    We know time flies, we just can't see its wings.

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    Quote Originally Posted by George View Post
    Just guessing, but perhaps the paper publisher had a marketing scheme to reward the food service in order to build circulation by an allusion of value tied to the food sale.
    Well, that wasn't the curiously unworkable bit.

    Grant Hutchison

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    If it's the paper they've been giving away around here, then free is overvaluing it.

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    I've always thought a lot of the folks in Iceland. I've heard it said that, more than Americans--the Icelanders are most likely to sacrifice their life for that of a stranger.
    They cleaned up their bankster culture
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/20.../iceland-women

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    I also note that in this study they specifically turned in the "lost" wallets to "one of five types of societal institutions: (i) banks; (ii) theaters, museums, or other cultural establishments; (iii) post offices; (iv) hotels; and (v) police stations, courts of law, or other public offices". So the behavior seen here might be different from how people would behave if they had come across a lost wallet on their own, with nobody else around. I can at least imagine that in that case, the probability of seeking to return the wallet might be lower.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Grey View Post
    I also note that in this study they specifically turned in the "lost" wallets to "one of five types of societal institutions: (i) banks; (ii) theaters, museums, or other cultural establishments; (iii) post offices; (iv) hotels; and (v) police stations, courts of law, or other public offices". So the behavior seen here might be different from how people would behave if they had come across a lost wallet on their own, with nobody else around. I can at least imagine that in that case, the probability of seeking to return the wallet might be lower.
    I wondered about that too, but they said they wanted to have tighter experimental control than in other studies (for example, classic lost letter studies), and such institutions provide useful benchmarks because they are common across many countries.

    They noted a number of recipient and situational characteristics, and included them in their statistical modelling.
    From the supplementary materials, with t and P values snipped for readability:

    Column 2 of Table S8 indicates that our treatment effect holds when also controlling for additional recipient and situational characteristics. This specification also finds that these additional characteristics also influenced reporting rates independent of our experimental conditions. On average men were roughly 2 percentage points less likely than women to report a wallet, and older recipients (i.e., those judged to 40 years or older) were 2 percentage points less likely to report a wallet. The presence of a computer at the recipientís workstation increased the likelihood of reporting a wallet, as did the presence of other coworkers. The latter of the two findings is unsurprising given that, in addition to the possibility of increased social monitoring, the presence of other coworkers may have also reduced recipientsí workload. By contrast, the presence of other bystanders (excluding coworkers) decreased reporting rates. One possibility for this result is that the increase in workload by having bystanders present exerted a larger influence on recipientsí behavior than did the additional social pressure brought about by the bystanderís presence.
    The presence of coworkers might approximate the situation of someone who finds a wallet on the street and knows they've been observed. From their table, the likelihood of returning the wallet was ~4.7% greater if coworkers were present.

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    Quote Originally Posted by swampyankee View Post
    A comparable, but different study is the [likely highly flawed] marshmallow test (https://www.theatlantic.com/family/a...w-test/561779/), which seems mostly to show that poor children are more improvident than rich ones. Of course, it's more complex than that: poor kids are likely to have fewer opportunities for treats and may be more likely to see the people lined up in front of them use up all the treats before they get that marshmallow.
    I think the Marshmallow test conclusions are dubious....

    You have a kid who is dying to eat a marshmallow.. but you tell him if he can wait 1 hr you will give him 2 marshmallows. Lets assume all kids really love marshmallows.
    Now- my advice is to eat your single marshmallow immediately with relish.
    Sure, you miss out on 1 marshmallow but you also save yourself 1 hour of stress/ anxiety where all you can think about is marshmallows! You also get to eat a marshmallow in front of kids who aren't.. which gives you a little ego trip. It's a good deal.
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