Lost letter project: Does wealth influence altruism?
Ethnic composition or population density did not contribute to whether or not people in a neighborhood delivered a dropped letter.
Thu, Aug 16, 2012 at 02:42 PM
A wealthier environment may breed more generous behavior, suggests a new study that found people in wealthier neighborhoods were much more likely to deliver a "lost letter" than those living in poorer neighborhoods in London.
The researchers set out to test how the socioeconomic status of a neighborhood affected altruistic, or selfless, behavior.
The team dropped letters across 20 London neighborhoods, leaving them face-up so passersby could spot the address label, which was made out to a gender-neutral name at a study researcher's address. Of those dropped in wealthier neighborhoods, an average of 87 percent were delivered. Meanwhile, an average of 37 percent of those dropped in poorer neighborhoods were delivered.
The results suggest that those living in poor neighborhoods are less likely to behave altruistically toward their neighbors, the team from the anthropology department at University College London said.
Other neighborhood characteristics, such as ethnic composition or population density, did not appear to be good predictors of whether or not a letter dropped in a particular neighborhood would be delivered.
The researchers note that the lower altruism of the lower-income neighborhoods could be a result of exposure to crime, "as the poorer neighborhoods tend to have higher rates crime, which may lead to people in those neighborhoods being generally more suspicious and therefore less likely to pick up a lost letter," said study researcher Antonio Silva, of the University College London, in a statement. The other team members are Jo Holland and Ruth Mace.
The results were published on Aug. 15 in the journal PLoS ONE.
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