IMAGINE THAT you found a wallet in the street containing a stranger’s contact details but no cash. Would you go out of your way to return it to its owner? Now imagine that the same wallet contained a few crisp banknotes. Would that alter your response? Does it depend on the amount of money? And how do you think other people would react in similar circumstances?
Honesty makes the world go round. Without people trusting in one another, at least to a certain extent, society would fall apart. Honesty is therefore studied academically. Most work in the area, though, takes place under controlled conditions in laboratories. Moreover, it often features well-off and well-educated Westerners as its subjects. By contrast Alain Cohn of the University of Michigan and his colleagues have taken such behavioural economics around the world. And 40 countries, 355 cities and more than 17,000 people later the results are in for their survey of civic honesty in the wild.