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Swiss are the most honest in the world, new study suggests

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.

Swiss are the most honest in the world, new study suggests
Photo: Depositphotos

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. (Scroll down to give us your own opinion)

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.

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CHRISTMAS

Your complete guide to Switzerland’s best Christmas markets in 2019

Christmas is just around the corner, which means its just about time to don a winter hat and get a hot cup of Glühwein. Here are the ten best Christmas markets in Switzerland.

Your complete guide to Switzerland's best Christmas markets in 2019
The Christmas market in Montreux. Photo: Depositphotos

Every diverse region of Switzerland celebrates Christmas with its own cultural tradition, and there's no better way of experiencing these differences than by visiting a local Christmas market. 

While some run for almost a month, others only last a weekend – so make sure to get in while you can. 

Interlaken

Photo: Interlaken Tourism

The Christmas Market in Interlaken is built around the massive Ice Magic skating complex (3000 square metres), which features five rinks all linked by runways.

If you're not confident on the ice, fear not. You can sign up for skating lessons and, bringing a taste of Scotland to Swiss markets, there is also a curling lane available for booking. 

Of course, there's also more than 100 stalls to browse and a chalet-style restaurant to enjoy. The market runs from December 14th until 22nd, but Ice Magic opens on December 14th (running into the new year). 

Montreux

Photo: Montreux Noel

Now in its 24th year, the Christmas Market in Montreux is known for its grandeur and spectacle. Stretching along the lake promenade (which is, of course, specially lit up for the occasion), the market offers thousands of gift ideas for grown-ups and children alike.

New attractions this year include a 3D light show, craft workshops for kids, a gourmet area and an open-late bar. Or just stick with the classics and visit Santa Claus, enjoy the carnival rides then wash it all down with some tasty grub and Glühwein.

Runs from November 21st to December 24th.

Basel

Photo: basel.com

The Christmas Market in Basel is said to be the oldest in Switzerland, and the people living in the city are well known for getting into the festive spirit with lights and decorations.

No wonder, then, that there are not one but three Christmas Markets to enjoy there. Basel's offering is known as one of the biggest and best markets in Switzerland and was recently voted as the 8th best in Europe – so naturally there is a whole lot of fun to be had.

The children's railway, craft workshops, the delicious Basel Läckerli (a hard, spiced type of biscuit) and performances from the Basel Music Academy are just some of the reasons you might want to stop by. The markets run from November 28th until December 23rd. More information can be found here.

Einsiedeln

Photo: Christof Sonderegger/Swiss Image

Einsiedeln might be small, but its Christmas Market is known as one of Switzerland’s best. As well as offering 130 stalls, the market is said to be the home of the world’s largest nativity scene – with a whopping 450 colourful figurines telling the story of the birth of Jesus.

The stunning backdrop of the Benedictine Einsiedeln Abbey and its twin spires adds to the fairy-tale feeling and the nearby gingerbread museum really puts the icing on the Christmas cake (gingerbread is a local speciality).

You'll have to get in early to catch it though; it runs from November 30th until December 8th.

Zofingen

Photo: Weihnachtsmarkt der Sinne Facebook Page

Like Einsiedeln, Zofingen isn’t the biggest. But its “Christmas Market of the Senses” is worthy of a mention for the remarkable way it offers guests a sensory experience. 

The market provides more than 200 stalls within the cosy old town setting, as well as a section just for “medieval” wares – and there’s a support programme to keep you entertained too. Short and sweet, the market runs from December 6th to December 8th.

St Gallen

Photo: Photo: St.Gallen-Bodensee Tourismus

The Christmas Market in St Gallen is another popular one – and for good reason. During advent, the city is lit up by 700 stars, covering the streets and the stunning medieval abbey district.

Guests can enjoy an advent tour of the city and a concert within a UNESCO World Heritage site cathedral. The market features a selection of handmade products and, for any carnivores out there, the region’s traditional sausage is well worth trying.

The St Gallen Christmas market runs from November 24th until Christmas Eve. 

Bremgarten

The medieval town of Bremgarten in Aargau hosts one of Switzerland’s bigger Christmas Markets, with more than 320 stalls filled with trinkets and delicacies to browse.

It is well worth a visit if only so you can say that you've been – but be warned; the Bremgarten market is popular and is usually very, very busy as it takes place only on one weekend.

In 2019, the market will take place from December 5th until the 8th. 

Willisau

Photo: Christkindlimärkt.ch 

Flying perhaps a little under the radar, the Christkindlimärt in Willisau, canton Lucerne, is nonetheless a bit of a favourite with locals.

The romantic old-town setting and the daily performances compliment the festive feeling and there’s a packed programme to keep the kids happy.

Don’t miss the yodelling Christmas concert, and make sure you try some Ringli – a sweet local delicacy that's a bit like a very crispy doughnut.

Running for just three days, the Christkindlimärt opens on December 6th and closes on December 8th.

Ticino

Photo: Ticino Tourism Facebook Page

Ticino is always worth a visit but perhaps even more so when it’s Christmas time.

Featuring a market inside a UNESCO World Heritage site castle, a massive (2000 square metre) ice rink in Locarno’s Piazza Grande and all the usual festive fun with a distinctly Mediterranean flavour, this one is not to be missed.

Dates vary in different places, so be sure to triple check before you head in. Some only run for a short period of time – with the market in Locarno open for just one day (December 8th). 

Yverdon-les-Bains

Set in and around the town’s stunning medieval castle, the Christmas Market in Yverdon-les-Bains is a mostly traditional affair that is notable for being a little more relaxing than some of its peers. You’re unlikely to have to fight your way through the crowd here, giving you more time to enjoy a few drinks and soak up the Christmas spirit. The stalls mostly feature regional produce (including local beers) and there’s also an ice-rink to enjoy too.

Bern

For more than 30 years, Bern's Christmas Market has aimed to offer guests what it calls a quiet and sensitive take on Christmas markets. Featuring arts and crafts of the “highest quality”, the market is set in front of the imposing Munster cathedral and runs from December 1st to December 24th. It also runs entirely on renewable Swiss energy. 

Neuchatel

Photo: Artisanalesdenoel.ch

Neuchatel’s Christmas Market has been dubbed Switzerland’s “largest indoor market of craft-creators” and organisers put a particular emphasis on showcasing the region’s craft and culinary specialities. Plus, the fact that it is indoors means you won’t have to worry about the weather. The market runs from December 8th to December 16th.

Morges 

Photo: Morgesmarchedenoel Instagram

The Christmas Market in Morges isn't the biggest but it does win points for its historic qualities as it is set in and around a castle that dates back to the 13th century. This year, the castle grounds will be home to 20 chalets that surround a large tented restaurant area. There will also be a healthy selection of artisan stalls and attractions to keep children interested.  

Lucerne

Every year, Lucerne's Franciscan square in the heart of the city's old town is converted into a winter wonderland full of colourful wooden houses. Nestled away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, the market is rightfully known as being one of Switzerland's most attractive.

With around 70 stalls to enjoy and a variety of entertainment for children, the market runs from December 5th to December 22nd.

Lausanne

Christmas in Lausanne is like nowhere else. “Traditional but extremely modern” is the tagline they like to use and they certainly back it up. The annual festival of lights sees installations set up all over town, and even though they sometimes have very little to do with Christmas, they do help boost spirits. 

Markets in Lausanne are actually held in three different locations, each with its own style. There's lots for the kids to enjoy, a nice selection of local craftwork to browse and, of course, lots of wine. Markets run between November 20th and December 31st. More information on locations can be found here.

A version of this story was originally published in November 2018. 

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