Monday, July 13, 2009

Want to keep your wallet? Carry a baby picture


What would you do if you found a wallet on the street? Leave it? Take it to a police station? Post it back to the owner? Keep it, even?

The answer, scientists have found, depends rather more on evolution than morality.

Hundreds of wallets were planted on the streets of Edinburgh by psychologists last year. Perhaps surprisingly, nearly half of the 240 wallets were posted back. But there was a twist.

Richard Wiseman, a psychologist, and his team inserted one of four photographs behind a clear plastic window inside, showing either a smiling baby, a cute puppy, a happy family or a contented elderly couple. Some wallets had no image and some had charity papers inside.

When faced with the photograph of the baby people were far more likely to send the wallet back, the study found. In fact, only one in ten were hard-hearted enough not to do so. With no picture to tug at the emotions, just one in seven were sent back.

According to Dr Wiseman the result reflects a compassionate instinct towards vulnerable infants that people have evolved to ensure the survival of future generations. "The baby kicked off a caring feeling in people, which is not surprising from an evolutionary perspective," he said.

No comments: