If a cashier handed you too much change, would you keep it? Does the amount of money make a difference? For instance, would you keep an extra $5 but return an extra $100? ABC News Primetime ran a study to find out what people would do when faced with this ethical dilemma. Over the course of two days they staked out a restaurant and watched as a cashier handed out $10 to $20 in extra change to 46 different people. In Primetime’s study 18 of the subjects immediately returned the money, while 26 put the money in their wallets and walked away. Then Primetime ran a second study. This time the cashier handed out an extra $100. In the second study 16 of the 25 people returned the money.
When Primetime questioned those who had returned the money, most of the individuals emphasized their belief in karma and/or that stealing is a sin. Others mentioned that they didn’t want the cashier to be financially responsible for the mistake. Those who kept the money said that the mistake wasn’t theirs and had no reluctance in keeping the money. To learn more about Primetime’s study click here.
A few months ago I faced a similar ethical and financial dilemma. I bought a bike from a local bicycle shop for over $400. I ordered a black bike, but when I arrived at the store, one of the employees brought out the identical bike, only blue in color. The bikes were equal in price, and I decided I liked the blue one better, so we paid for some additional accessories like bike helmets and water bottles and went on our way. The business changed hands shortly after this transaction occurred and I received a phone call from the bike shop a few months later. The shop owner said the bike had arrived, and had been paid for, so I just needed to come pick it up. (It seems the black bike was still tagged with my name, so the shop owner just assumed we had never picked up the bike.) Had I been dishonest I could have taken the bike and walked away with an additional $400 bike for free. Instead I let the shop owner know that my husband and I had picked up a blue bike instead of the black one. Interestingly, when my husband and I mentioned this scenario to our co-workers many of them said they wouldn’t have thought twice about taking the bike, despite the fact that they hadn’t paid for it.