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Honesty trumps political loyalty in lost wallet experiment

People are just as likely to return a ‘lost’ wallet to an owner who has a different political affiliation to their own suggests new research from LSE.

Paul Dolan, Professor of Behavioural Science, orchestrated a drop of 300 wallets in busy shopping areas in Brighton on Bank Holiday Sunday (2 May). The wallets were identical except for a sticker from one of the five main political parties on the front (2). Fifty wallets were dropped without stickers for the purpose of comparison.

walletEach wallet also contained £5, a baby photo, some fake papers and a contact number for its owner, ‘Charlie Smith’.

Fifty six per cent of the wallets were found by people who tried to return them to ‘Charlie’. The particular party sticker on the wallet made no difference to the likelihood of the wallet being returned, except when it was a Green Party sticker, and then ‘Charlie’ was more likely to receive a call from someone trying to return his/her wallet. 

Professor Dolan said: “We were surprised that honesty wins out over political difference. Given that Brighton elected the only Green MP in the UK in the 2010 election it is perhaps not so surprising that wallets with Green party stickers were the most likely to be returned.”

All the wallets were dropped were dropped within the constituency of Brighton Pavilion.

Posted: Thursday 7 May 2015

Notes for editors

1. Paul Dolan is a behavioural scientist and best-selling author of Happiness by Design: Finding pleasure and purpose in everyday life. Hewill talk about living and succeeding with a stammer at a fundraising event for Action for Stammering Children on May 11, 2015 http://happinessbydesign.com/stutteringintohappiness/

2. The wallets had a sticker of one of the five main political parties on the front (Conservatives; Labour; the Liberal Democrats; the Green Party and UKIP) or were left plain for a comparison.