The Trust Experiment

My friend’s have the coolest ideas!!!

Andrea from has started a fascinating experiment in human behaviour.  She calls it .

She is taking an old wallet inserting a $10 bill and, after coordinating with the manager of her favourite local coffee shop ( for those of you reading from Ottawa), is leaving it on table with the following note inside:

Hello –

You have just stumbled upon the Trust Experiment.

I have put ten dollars in this wallet. It was deliberately left here on [date]. I will be checking it once a day to see if it’s still here. At the end of the experiment the money will be donated to the .

Obviously, this experiment ends if the wallet or the money disappears. It might last a day or a month. I have no idea, but that’s what I’d like to find out.

If you’re reading this, please sign the bottom of this sheet to let me know when you were here. Although you are not required to do so you may add money to the wallet, but you must first accept the risk that comes with leaving cold hard cash out in the open. The question is: do you trust?

This experiment is being tracked at


andrea t.

Now some of the more cynical of you may think this is silly or that this is a waste of time.

Andrea’s response to your cynicism? “I would like to say, for the record, that I don’t really care. I’m doing this for myself and for myself only. And I thought it might be cool to take a few other people (like you!) along for the ride and write about it here.”

There’s been a fair bit of discussion already happening on andrea’s blog about the project, people’s inherent good-ness or bad-ness and by extension trustworthiness, and because of me a little chat about the broke and hungry.

I’m eager to see how it all pans out.

What would you do if you found a wallet left on a coffee shop table?

Alexa Clark

Alexa is a digital marketer and author with over 20 years in digital & interactive communications in the food and tech industries. Alexa's CheapEats Restaurant Guides, for both Toronto & Ottawa, were Canadian best sellers. She is a recognized authority on social media and has been named one of Canada's 20 Leading Women in Social Media.

8 thoughts on “The Trust Experiment

  • March 16, 2007 at 11:43 am

    A very interesting social experiment; I think I sort of like it.  I think that if I found a wallet with money in it, I would take it to the manager/overseer of whatever store (or coffee shop) I happen to be in.  Now, if I just found a $10 bill lying out on a table, free of any wallet or other identifying object…that might be a bit of a different situation.  If I find $20 or less on a sidewalk, though, I might just make away with it (but no more than $20).  As you can see, I’ve got a bit of a personal ‘Hammurabi’s Code’ for finding money.

  • March 16, 2007 at 11:57 am

    Very interesting! If I found the wallet, I’d just bring it to the front desk/manager. Would never, ever look inside. Now, don’t think this is because I’m some perfect person who would never do wrong. I’m terrified of “getting caught” when I do something wrong. I’ve got quite the history of getting caught every single time I do wrong.

    This remind me of an experiment my friend did in high school: she left several bags of clothing at a bench in a shopping mall. They were real items from some of the nicest stores in the mall. Then she watched from afar to see what happened to them. Oh, she let people see she was the one who walked away from them and was pretending to get a soda or something. Found that the average person would look in the bags before trying to get her attention.

  • March 16, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    I dunno… I think this is more about guilt than trust.

  • March 16, 2007 at 9:08 pm

    I don’t think the experiment is particularly valid — simply because it’s not a real situation. People who might take the money otherwise might be persuaded not to because of the note. It doesn’t really prove anything.

    I think june is right. It’s more about guilt.

    still, if your frined says she’s doing this for herself, well then, that’s what she needs to do and there’s some benefit in it. even if it’s just answering any niggling question she has about people’s trustworthiness.

  • March 17, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    I’d probably turn it in to the management too without looking into it.  I was taught that you never open a lost purse or wallet without someone else with you so there’s no chance you’ll get accused of taking anything and you aren’t intentionally invading someone’s privacy.

    I’ve gotten grief for turning $60 I found in the back of a cab into the cab driver, who in all likelihood pocketed it just like my companion would have.  I, on the other hand, thought someone might need that money back and would rather help that happen.

  • March 17, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    angelanoel – you know, I had a similar experience to your highschool friend.  I had a big pillow loose in my bike basket for years.  I figured that if someone stole it, they needed it more than I did and they were welcome to it.  One very very rainy day, I decided to keep the pillow dry by putting it into a plastic bag while it rained.  I left it in the basket as usual, but when I got back to my bike 1/2 an hour later it was gone.

  • March 17, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    Sure it’s not a pure – would you take it or wouldn’t you – test, but I think it just changes where the “trust” line falls.

    I can also see situations where knowing it was an experiment, rather than someone else’s last $10 could free me up to take it… eg. If things were really desperate, I can see taking all or some of it for food if I knew it was a trust experiment and I wouldn’t leave someone else hungry.

  • March 18, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    I’m sitting in the Maple Leaf Lounge in the Vancouver airport, and board to tears waiting for my flight. As usual when in this position I check your blog for something to entertain/make me think/ laugh/veg/etc..As usual you have filled the bill with the Trust Experiment,I love quietfishes idea and it should yield some interesting comments, donations or whatever.Hopefully somebody won’t just grab the wallet, take the cash not read the note and throw the wallet in the dumpster. This would not tell us much, because the taker would not be given the chance to make a choice whatever it would be.Lex


What do you think?

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