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Lost Wallet Experiment: Kenya Ranks Poorly in Global Honesty Index

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Kenyans has been ranked poorly in a global honesty survey of 40 countries where researchers dropped wallets with cash in public places as part of a social experiment.

Lost Wallet Experiment: Nairobi Ranks Poorly in Global Honesty Index

The study sought to answer the question: Does the amount of cash in a lost wallet impact how likely a person is to return it?

A team of researchers drawn from various universities across the world studied the question in a huge experiment spanning 355 cities in 40 countries. One of the cities studied was Nairobi.

For this purpose, a team of researchers dropped off more than 17,000 ‘lost’ wallets at random places in 355 cities across the globe, with varying amounts of money at public and private places including but not limited to banks, cultural establishments like theatres and museums, post offices, hotels, and police stations or courts of law.

The objective of this exercise was to determine whether people who found the wallet would return it to its rightful owner or not.

The wallet would be placed on the counter by the research assistant, who would deliver it to an employee telling them they had found it on the street but were in a hurry and had to go.

Each contained a grocery list, a key, and three business cards in the local language using fictitious but commonplace male names and an email address, signaling the owner was a local resident.

Some wallets had no money, while others contained the equivalent of $13.45 in the local currency, adjusted for purchasing power in the target country.

Contrary to the predictions of professional economists and about 2,500 respondents to a survey, most of the people who found the abandoned wallets did not act in self-interest and made active efforts to return the wallet.

The overall finding of the study was that people are likelier to return wallets with more cash.

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Authors of the study also observed that a total of 51 per cent of those who found a wallet with a smaller amount of money made the effort to report the matter to concerned authorities as compared to 40 per cent who handed over an empty wallet. Similarly, 72 per cent of those who found wallets with a large sum of money returned it in pristine condition.

In the study, the Swiss emerged as the most honest followed by Norwegians, Dutch and Danes in that order.

Kenyans ranked number 36 out of 40. Chinese were ranked the most dishonest followed by Moroccans, Peruvians and Kazakhstanis in that order.

In order to capture a pattern of the results observed during the experiments, authors of the report identified a simple behavioural model which asserted that civic honesty is determined by the interplay between four components, the economic payoff of keeping the wallet, the fixed effort cost of contacting the wallet’s owner, an altruistic concern for the owner’s welfare and the costs associated with negatively updating one’s self-image as a thief.

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