Switzerland: Are the Swiss the most honest people in the world?

Swiss are the most honest in the world, new study suggests
Photo: Depositphotos
A study that compared rates of civic honesty in 40 countries around the world has revealed that Switzerland is home to the most morally correct people, at least when it comes to returning wallets with cash in them.


Does the amount of cash in a lost wallet impact how likely a person is to return it?

Classical economic theories suggest that the greater the temptation, the less likely we are to be honest — but a new study turns the idea on its head, finding that altruism, and a powerful aversion to viewing oneself as a “thief,” outweigh the financial incentives.

A team of researchers studied these questions in a huge experiment spanning 355 cities in 40 countries — one of the most rigorous investigations so far into the intersection of economics and psychology.

The results, published Thursday in Science, also reveal extreme differences between countries, with Switzerland and Norway topping the honesty list, and Peru, Morocco and lastly China rounding out the bottom three.

But although rates of civic honesty varied greatly from country to country, one thing remained remarkably constant: wallets with money, as opposed to no money, boosted reporting rates.

The global average for reporting a lost wallet was 40 percent, which grew to 51 percent when it had money.

“The evidence suggests that people tend to care about the welfare of others and they have an aversion to seeing themselves as a thief,” co-author Alain Cohn from the University of Michigan said.

Researchers from the University of Zurich and the University of Utah were also part of the work.

The researchers then polled a group of 279 top-performing professional economists to see if they would have accurately predicted the outcome, which only 29 percent did.

“Our results suggest that even experts tend to have cynical intuitions about other people’s motivations, often exaggerating the role of financial incentives and underestimating the role of psychological forces,” added Cohn.

The experiment, which cost $600,000, is unparalleled in its magnitude. More than 17,000 identical wallets were dropped off at banks, cultural establishments like theaters and museums, post offices, hotels, and police stations or courts of law.

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

In three countries (the US, UK and Poland), they repeated the experiment with even more money: $94.15, which boosted reporting rates by an average of 11 percentage points compared to the smaller amount.

They also found that having a key boosted reporting rates by 9.2 percentage points in the three countries.

Since the key is valuable to the owner but not the finder, this pointed toward an altruism concern in addition to the cost of negatively updating one’s self image.

Switzerland tops

The proportion of employees who got in touch with the owner surpassed 70 percent in Switzerland and Norway.

At the other end of the table was China, with fewer than 10 percent of employees returning the wallet when it was empty, though the figure more than doubled when it contained yuan.

Countries’ relative wealth or poverty was found to be insufficient in explaining the disparities, said Cohn, adding that education and political systems could play a role.

On the whole, countries which are more democratic and where citizens feel they are a part of the decision-making process tend to score higher on civic honesty.

Local cultural values that emphasize moral norms extending beyond one’s “in-group” also appear to be associated with greater rates of reporting.

That could explain why countries where family ties have traditionally been very strong, such as Italy, have a lower rate of return than more individualist nations in northern Europe, said co-author Christian Zund.

“Three of the authors have Swiss nationalities, so we were — of course, we were happy to see that Switzerland ranked among the top countries,” concluded Cohn.

The Local/Switzerland

Published by CityFella

Big city fella, Born and Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lived in New York (a part time New Yorker) for three years . I have lived in the Sacramento area since 1993. When I first moved here, I hated it. Initially found the city too conservative for my tastes. A great place to raise children however too few options for adults . The city has grown up, there is much to do here. The city suffers from low self esteem in my opinion, locals have few positive words to say about their hometown. visitors and transplants are amazed at what they find here. From, the grand old homes in Alkali Flats, and the huge trees in midtown, there are many surprises in Sacramento. Theater is alive is this area . And finally ,there is a nightlife... In.downtown midtown, for the young and not so young. My Criticism is with local government. There is a shortage of visionaries in city hall. Sacramento has long relied on the state, feds and real estate for revenue. Like many cities in America,Downtown Sacramento was the hub of activity in the area. as the population moved to the suburbs and retail followed. The city has spent millions to revive downtown. Today less than ten thousand people live downtown. No one at city hall could connect the dots. Population-Retail. Business says Sacramento is challenging and many corporations have chosen to set up operations outside the cities limits. There is vision in the burbs. Sacramento has bones, there are many good pieces here, leaders seem unable or unwilling to put those pieces together into. Rant aside, I love it here. From the trees to the rivers. But its the people here that move me. Sacramento is one of the most integrated cities in America. I find I'm welcome everywhere. The spices work in this city of nearly 500,000 and for the most part these spices blend well together. From Ukrainians to Hispanics and a sizable gay community, all the spices seem to work well here. I frequently travel and occasionally I will venture into a city with huge racial borders, where its unsafe to visit after certain hours. I haven't found it here. I cant imagine living in a community where there is one hue or one spice. I love the big trees, Temple Coffee House, the Alhambra Safeway, Zelda's Pizza, Bicyclist in Midtown, The Mother Lode Saloon, Crest Theater, and the Rivers. I could go on and I might. Sacramento is home.

%d bloggers like this: