Lost letter experiment suggests wealthy London neighborhoods are 'more altruistic'

Aug 15, 2012

Neighbourhood income deprivation has a strong negative effect on altruistic behaviour when measured by a 'lost letter' experiment, according to new UCL research published today in PLOS ONE.

Researchers from UCL used the lost letter technique to measure across 20 London neighbourhoods by dropping 300 letters on the and recording whether they arrived at their destination. The stamped letters were addressed by hand to a study author's home address with a gender neutral name, and were dropped face-up and during rain free weekdays.

The results show a strong negative effect of neighbourhood income deprivation on altruistic behaviour, with an average of 87% of letters dropped in the wealthier neighbourhoods being returned compared to only an average 37% return rate in poorer neighbourhoods.

Co-author Jo Holland said: "This is the first large scale study investigating cooperation in an using the lost letter technique. This technique, first used in the 1960s by the American Stanley Milgram, remains one of the best ways of measuring truly altruistic behaviour, as returning the letter doesn't benefit that person and actually incurs the small hassle of taking the letter to a post box.

Co-author Professor Ruth Mace added: "Our study attempts to understand how the socio-economic characteristics of a neighbourhood affect the likelihood of people in a neighbourhood acting altruistically towards a stranger. The results show a clear trend, with letters dropped in the poorest neighbourhoods having 91% lower odds of being returned than letters dropped in the wealthiest neighbourhoods. This suggests that those living in poor neighbourhoods are less inclined to behave altruistically toward their ."

As well as measuring the number of letters returned, the researchers also looked at how other neighbourhood characteristics may help to explain the variation in altruistic behaviour – including ethnic composition and population density – but did not find them to be good predictors of lost letter return.

Corresponding author Antonio Silva said: "The fact that ethnic composition does not play a role on the likelihood of a letter being returned is particularly interesting, as other studies have suggested that ethnic mixing negatively affects social cohesion, but in our sampled London neighbourhoods this does not appear to be true.

"The level of altruism observed in a population is likely to vary according to its context. Our hypothesis that area level socio-economic characteristics could determine the levels of altruism found in individuals living in an area is confirmed by our results. Our overall findings replicate and expand on previous studies which use similar methodology.

"We show in this study that individuals living in are less altruistic than individuals in wealthier neighbourhoods. However, the effect of income deprivation may be confounded by crime, as the poorer neighbourhoods tend to have higher rates crime which may lead to people in those neighbourhoods being generally more suspicious and therefore less likely to pick up a lost letter.

"Further research should focus on attempting to disentangle these two factors, possibly by comparing equally deprived neighbourhoods with different levels of crime. Although this study uses only one measure of altruism and therefore we should be careful in interpreting these findings, it does give us an interesting perspective on altruism in an urban context and provides a sound experimental model on which to base future studies."

Explore further: Why plants in the office make us more productive

More information: Lost Letter Measure of Variation in Altruistic Behaviour in 20 Neighbourhoods, PLOS ONE, dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0043294

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User comments : 48

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Eikka
2.3 / 5 (6) Aug 15, 2012
The results show a strong negative effect of neighbourhood income deprivation on altruistic behaviour, with an average of 87% of letters dropped in the wealthier neighbourhoods being returned compared to only an average 37% return rate in poorer neighbourhoods.


Or, it shows that wealthier neighborhoods have more people lingering outside to notice the letters in the first place.

If you were walking around a ghetto, you'd not be bothering to hang around long enough to pick up someone's piece of paper that may or may not be a letter. Neither would the postman, the guy who empties the trash, or any other worker who would rather just not step out of the car.
Parsec
2.7 / 5 (3) Aug 15, 2012
I wonder if there are more post boxes or if they are more conveniently located in wealthier neighborhoods.

Also, what is the average use of post boxes in the different kinds of neighborhoods. For example, if wealthy neighborhoods post more letters, then they would feel more kinship and thus be more altruistically inclined when they see a letter. It is also easier to carry the letter home and post it with your own. Also poorer neighborhoods are usually trashier so the chances of the letters getting noticed is lower. Poorer neighborhoods are also unhealthier, so the chances of getting disease from picking up letters is much greater.

Lots of other explanations exist for these results that can largely offset the authors conclusions.
komone
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 15, 2012
This stunningly unsurprising result does however lay a reasonable foundation for further research. It would be really interesting to interview the people that chose NOT to pick up the "lost" letter and repost it, in order to get their reasoning or a measure of their level of disinterest in the property of others. Wonder if a high level of disinterest in the property of others also correlates to a propensity to thievery (which could be either housebreaking or irresponsible market trading activity)?
ziphead
1.8 / 5 (5) Aug 15, 2012
This stunningly unsurprising result does however lay a reasonable foundation for further research. It would be really interesting to interview the people that chose NOT to pick up the "lost" letter and repost it, in order to get their reasoning or a measure of their level of disinterest in the property of others.


I hope the response to your attempt to inteview them should be just as unsurprising to you.

Something along the lines of: "get a life and mind your own friggin' business"
RobertKarlStonjek
4 / 5 (4) Aug 15, 2012
People are far more likely to be able to afford to move to a wealthy neighbourhood in later life and retirement and far more likely to live in a poorer neighbourhood when first starting out. Therefore we would expect to see far more children and young adults as a percentage of the overall population in the poorer neighbourhoods than the richer neighbourhoods: Are children less responsible as all the data indicates???
nayTall
3 / 5 (2) Aug 15, 2012
would the same percentage of poor people pick up 'garbage' out of curiosity and boredom, walking around in a wealthy neighborhood if they also happened to have been wealthy all or part of their lives? probably. real nice study, guys..
Squirrel
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 16, 2012
It is due to bed sits, temporary lodgings, and greater short term renting in poorer areas. London rich areas contain a high percentage of long term residents and a small number of short term ones. Due to this rich areas are more likely to contain more road associations where people meet. If you think the letter may have been sent by someone you might meet over wine and cheese you more likely to make sure it goes in the postbox.
hb_
4 / 5 (4) Aug 16, 2012
@Squirrel

Perhaps. But even in rich neighbourhoods people don't generally socialize. High fences makes good neighbours, remember?

I am more inclined to think this is related to a tendency of people not to care about a place that is really run down. If a school, for instance, is in a really poor condition with graffiti and holes in the walls, the students tend to think that another hole won't matter.

At any rate, it is a nice to see that the authors have punched another hole in the myth of the "noble savage" / "nobility of poor people" - myth. There is, of course, no such thing. Quite the contrary.
hb_
3 / 5 (2) Aug 16, 2012
@ RobertKarlStonjek

You are right in principle, but the effect is too large to be explained by a difference in children. First of all, children (up to 15), don't make up more than - say - 25% of the population even in poor areas. Second, children usually go to school and are therefore just as unlikely to stumble upon the letter as a working adult.

So, this cannot really explain why 87% of the letters dropped in rich areas get to their destination, compared to 37% in the poor areas.
RobertKarlStonjek
2 / 5 (4) Aug 16, 2012
Would children be more likely to be working along the footpath anyway? Adults drive everywhere, children walk. Children also have better eyesight, are more curious and more likely to pick up and inspect an object.

It is clear that the difference has some effect. Until the researchers can say what happens to the letters not returned we will not know what has caused the effect ~ we certainly can't make any claim such as the 'Wealthy' being 'more altruistic'.
tekram
2.7 / 5 (3) Aug 16, 2012
The simplest explanation is that people from wealthier neighborhood have more free time to take walks and linger to pick up and post stray letters. The most complicated explanation is that there are trained squirrels in wealthy areas that can pick up and deliver the letters.

Another factor is that poorer people may be more likely to open the stray letters and toss them once they find no valuables inside. The way to test this is to put a self addressed postcard inside the letter with $1 and a promise of $10 reward for posting the postcard.
antonio2
5 / 5 (2) Aug 16, 2012
I am one of the authors of the study and we did control for the number of postboxes and the age composition of the neighbourhoods. Neither had a significant effect.
julianpenrod
2.2 / 5 (5) Aug 16, 2012
A typical example of a programmed "experiment", one rigged to "prove" what you want it to.
If people are rushing to a job, common in poorer neighborhoods than ones where those in "no sow" jobs live, can cause a letter to be missed. Poorer neighborhoods, usually urban, also tend to have more litter than tended, manicured rich enclaves. A letter would be easy to miss on the ground. If someone is worried about making ends meet, they might also tend not to notice a letter on the ground. Try putting out beggars to see how much money they get in the two neighborhoods. Then the rich neighborhoods will rig the experiment by saying they gave fortunes to 100% of the beggars they met, but only because the richer neighborhoods didn't allow any beggars in them! And anyone who believes antonio2 is necessarily one of the "authors of the study", they can be as stupid as the New World Order needs them to be.
antialias_physorg
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 16, 2012
People are far more likely to be able to afford to move to a wealthy neighbourhood in later life and retirement and far more likely to live in a poorer neighbourhood when first starting out.

Social mobility is very low in the UK (the UK has actually the lowest social mobility of all developed nations tested) - and it has declined since the 1970s.
As an aside: The UK is only margnially worse in terms of social mobility than the US - which came in second lowest...so much for the "land of opportunity" myth.
Canada and the Scandinavian nations score surprisingly high (those damn socialists *shakes fist*)
mfritz0
1 / 5 (3) Aug 16, 2012
I'm pretty sure one of the things they never thought of was that in the wealthier neighborhoods the chances of the individual being able to read were far greater than in the poorer neighborhood. Where even if they did pick the letter up, they wouldn't know what it was for.
Kafpauzo
not rated yet Aug 16, 2012
If the address on the letter was in a somewhat more wealthy neighbourhood, maybe people in poorer neighbourhoods felt less kinship and less inclination to be helpful.
ValeriaT
3 / 5 (2) Aug 16, 2012
Rich people are cheating more often... Altruistically indeed...
hb_
1 / 5 (1) Aug 17, 2012
@Tekram

Why would people in affluent areas have - on average - more time to stroll the streets than people from poorer areas? You can argue this in several ways.. There are more unemployed in poor areas, ergo, more people with time to spend. In poor areas where nobody has a yard, they are more likely to spend their free time in the streets. Rich areas are populated by careerists who work practically all the time. As you see, it could just as easily be the other way around.

We don't really know if there is any difference in "strolling" time until you show some evidence of your claims.
hb_
1 / 5 (1) Aug 17, 2012
@RobertKarlStonjek

Well, read the comment by Antonio2 above. If it is genuine, children have no effect on this study.
RobertKarlStonjek
1 / 5 (2) Aug 17, 2012
OK, but one still needs to know what happens to the non-returned envelopes before any conclusion can be drawn that includes the non-returned envelopes.

You can't, for instance, conclude anything about 'altruism' just from the number of envelopes returned.

My personal (hence anecdotal) experience with residents of poorer neighbourhoods is that they would be more likely to open the envelope and see if the contents warrant returning whereas the more wealthy are more likely to respect privacy.

If that was the case then the reason for fewer returns would have more to do with the contents of the envelopes and the behaviour of the poor rather than anything to do with, say, altruism...
kochevnik
1 / 5 (1) Aug 17, 2012
so much for the "land of opportunity" myth.
Hardly a myth. Plenty of opportunity for opportunists!
dtxx
1 / 5 (1) Aug 19, 2012
Maybe it depends more on the surroundings than on where the individuals live? Not everyone who goes to these areas lives in them.

As an example, I would be much more likely to pick something up off the ground in Beverly Hills than in Compton. That's for a variety of reasons. Not minding your own business in a poorer area is much more likely to bring hostility and violence, especially if we are talking about areas with highly territorial gangs (maybe this is more of a US thing, but I doubt it). I'd really expect someone wealthy to be more likely to say "excuse me, don't touch that" instead of breaking my face or stabbing me. In some areas survival is about keeping a low profile and not pissing anyone off over trivial things like someone else's letter. Also, as was stated, the streets in poorer areas will tend to be much dirtier. I'd pick up something next to a Lexus on the clean sidewalk much more quickly than I'd pick up something out of a pile of rubbish or next to dog shit.
hb_
not rated yet Aug 22, 2012
@RobertKarlStonjek

Let's for a moment assume that you are right about the poor opening the letter to see if it merits being posted or not.. How would it work? Would the poor people only post the letter if it contained money? Doesn't feel very likely, does it?

Or would they only post it if it was a personal as oposed to an official letter? Well, that wouldn't be very nice, would it? I might want to know if I have cancer or not, or if I have been granted wellfare money.. Or do you suggest that the poor would actually read the content, and say: "This is a standard letter from a salesman.. throw it away..but this is an editor that has decided to publish the respondends book.. I must rush to the port box!". It would actually cost them more work to use the latter criteria.

Sorry, the theory doesn't fly with me.
RobertKarlStonjek
1 / 5 (1) Aug 22, 2012
We can hypothesize and guess, but only data settles the issue...

We have data telling us how many letters are returned, but no data telling us why letters were returned and why letters were not returned. Yet the article makes a bold statement about the very area for which there is no data at all ~ none whatsoever. That's not very scientific. It isn't even philosophy. It is just discrimination thinly disguised as science...
hb_
1 / 5 (1) Aug 23, 2012
@RobertKarlStonjek

You are the one who makes all the hypothesis, don't you see that?

Your first attempt to explain the effect away was patently debunked by one of the authors, and your other explanations are pure speculation.

What we know, is that the return rate of lost letters is more than twice as high in "rich" neighbourhoods than in "poor" neighbourhoods. Posting a letter for the benefit of a stranger is a pretty good proxy for an altruistic act. The clever thing about this method is that you remove human interaction from the equation. As such, the method is pretty clever.

Of course, to really know if people are less altruistic in poor neighbourhoods you need more studies with different angles. But, the study does SUGGEST (read above!) that well off people are more altruistic than their poorer counterparts.
RobertKarlStonjek
1 / 5 (1) Aug 23, 2012
Anyone who has ever studied psychology will know that there can be an almost infinite number of motivations for the same act. The study has shown that there is a difference between to the groups and has assumed that just one of those possible motivations are true.

Another motivations, often also assumed for poorer people, is laziness. An oft given reason for poverty, especially by the right wing, is that poor are lazy or less motivated generally. If that were true then that alone could account for the difference i.e. the poorer people simply didn't bother to repost the letters.

Now given that laziness will result in poverty and at least some of the poor are poor because of their own laziness, what did the authors do to discriminate between these two possible causes in the difference between letter returns i.e. laziness and lack of altruism? Should we list the other possible reasons for their behaviour? Lack of trust in authority; suspicion; etc
hb_
1 / 5 (2) Aug 24, 2012
@RobertKarlStonjek

The purpose of this study is not to find out why different areas have different incidences of altruism, but to quantify and measure it. So, it does not matter why rich/poor people act with a greater/lesser degree of altruism, as long as they do it without coersion.

The only factors - so far - that can change accuracy of the measurement are factors such as proximity of the post box (debunked), age composition of the inhabitants (debunked) and average time spent on the streets (we do not know). I suppose a systematic difference in rain could also explain the difference, but we do not really think that poor areas are generally more rainy, do we?
RobertKarlStonjek
1 / 5 (1) Aug 24, 2012
In other words, apart from the empirically verified data (the difference in return rate) we can draw no conclusion.

Drawing conclusions without actual data is what I am objecting to. There is no data to say why the envelopes are more frequently returned in the wealthy areas.

There are a number of possible reasons for this difference, altruism being only one of those reasons. There are reasons that you and I can guess at (some of which have been eliminated already) and those which we do not anticipated (e.g. counter-intuitive reasons).

Is there a different culture in poorer areas compared to wealthy areas? Most agree that there are differences, especially where such areas are well established over long periods of time. Is it the culture that is less altruistic or the individual?

Science is all about drawing conclusions from the data. Even when two sets of data agree, such as less altruism in the poorer areas, the mantra remains: correlation does not equal causation.
hb_
1 / 5 (1) Aug 24, 2012
@RobertKarlStonjek

No, Robert, you are objecting to the findings, not the methods. So far, every argument that you have presented has been debunked, but instead of changing your mind when the supposedly pivotal argument has been disproven, you scurry to find another one.

But I think that your defence of the poor is really unecessary. You see, there might be extenuating circumstances for the lack of - in this case - altruism of the poor. In an environment where all just fend for themselves it would take a very good person indeed to persist in a good behavour. If the very same lady who has ignored the envelope in the poor areas move to a more affluent area where the norms are different, she may start to post lost letters.

But - here comes the clou - regardless of the reasons behind the altruism/lack of altruism, it is still correct to describe the act as such.
RobertKarlStonjek
1 / 5 (1) Aug 24, 2012
The finding is that there is a difference in the number of letters returned. I have no problem with that. The conjecture, given without data of any kind, is that the reason for the difference is solely down to altruism.

Here is an example: if the same experiment was done in the 19th century it would probably be assumed that the reason for the difference was a lack of literacy among the poor. Yet you would still want to describe the results as showing the degree of altruism.

Another possible reason is the strong ingroup-outgroup affiliation felt by both groups. If the letters are addressed to a wealthy neighbourhood then the rich will feel ingroup affiliation and want to help whereas the poor will feel it is part of the outgroup and not return it. If the tables were turned (all letters addressed to the poor neighbourhood) results may change. Note that all the letters were indeed addressed to a better off suburb, the author's own (according to the paper).

RobertKarlStonjek
1 / 5 (1) Aug 24, 2012
cont...
Indeed, the authors say "neighbourhoods are less inclined to behave altruistically toward their neighbours."

For this to be true the recipient of the letter must equally be a neighbour of both groups i.e. an address in a poor neighbourhood for the poor and rich neighbourhood for the wealthy. Is High Wycombe rich or poor (I think that is the address of Jo Holland)???

And let's not forget that the very poorest area returned more letters than the second poorest (of the four categories listed).

Note also that we read "However in contrast, Piff et al. [11] found that wealthy individuals were less likely to behave altruistically than less wealthy individuals in a range of measures, mainly measured from students at University of California at Berkeley, USA." indicating that the link between wealth and altruism certainly has not been established...
hb_
1 / 5 (1) Aug 27, 2012
@RobertKarlStonjek

Well, so far, we only have altruism.. The other explanations have been shot down.

Here is an example: ..... literacy among the poor.


That may or may not be true, but I am interested in the article here and now.

Yet you would still want to .... addressed to a better off suburb, the author's own (according to the paper) ... For this to be true the recipient of the letter must equally be a neighbour of both groups i.e. an address in a poor neighbourhood for the poor and rich neighbourhood for the wealthy.


I think you have found your first relevant argument here.. Part of the effect would then seem to be due to "class strugle". I don't have access to the article, so I can only assume that the effect cannot be explained by the variable "address" by itself. Is this correct or not?
hb_
1 / 5 (1) Aug 27, 2012
@RobertKarlStonjek

Note also that we read "However in contrast, Piff et al. [11] found that wealthy individuals were less likely to behave altruistically than less wealthy individuals in a range of measures


Yes, and this is why this article is interesting. It is a contradictory data point to the previous studies. Every study has to be avaluated for it's merit, and the "sum" will then be the knowledge at this point. Note, however, that it in itself is not an invalidation of this study, nor the conclusion that the wealthy neighbourhoods act more altruistically when faced with a lost letter.

There are differences between the different studies. First of all, the composition of the subjects are different: university students versus "man on the street". The situation is different: laboratory game versus ordinary everyday situation. I don't have to tell you that this can change the result, do I?
hb_
1 / 5 (1) Aug 27, 2012
@RobertKarlStonjek

One more thing about the different studies. Generally, I would say that studies that are based on interviews are really poor. You would always ask yourself if the interviewer in some way influenced the respondent, or if the respondent was censoring himself in order to seem better than he is.

Studies where you have game situations are not bad - as long as they are evaluated with the help of computers and do not involve interaction with the scientists - but real life situations are even better.

For these reasons, the lost letter experiment is unusually good for a social science study. The norm is - quite contrary to what you claim - a leftist trying to comfirm his opinions and thus get more grants from the generally leftist social science comunity in a field that typically ignores logic and scientific rigor.

RobertKarlStonjek
1 / 5 (1) Aug 27, 2012
I agree that self-assessment is not a reliable indicator but many topics/questions can be reliably researched through interviews, such as, for instance, where the number of jobs an individual has had in their past or the number of addresses they have had. These are fairly neutral questions and call for objective data that is provided by the interviewee. But if we were asking about altruism, well, half the guys on death row are misunderstood angels...

As for 'altruism', that is the conjectured part of the study. Even if there were no other alternative *that the researchers could think of* they would still have to establish the link between the results they obtained and the model they are presenting to explain the data (that the difference is altruism).

cont below...
RobertKarlStonjek
1 / 5 (1) Aug 27, 2012
I would be extremely surprised if there was no difference in results if the address on the envelopes was in a poor neighbourhood rather than a wealthy one, but only a study can determine what the magnitude of that difference is and whether or not it is, on balance, significant or not. We could further extend my point by considering people known to those finding the letters verses people they don't know. Clearly there would be a difference there. So what of 'class-kin'?? I suggest any difference would be much bigger in the UK than, say, Australia, where class distinction (snobbishness) is not as prominent.
hb_
1 / 5 (1) Aug 27, 2012
@RobertKarlStonjek

I'm confused. From your quote above, I understood that you had access to the article. So, the difference that the address makes should be pretty clear. But you say that more studies are needed to quantify the importance of addressee?

If a difference still persists even after considering the address, the effect still points to altruism/lack of altruism. For instance, if the return rate of a typical poor neighbourhood is 37 % when the letter is addressed to a rich neighbourhood, and 50% when addressed to a poor one, the effect is still sizeable. The average return rate of the wealthy neighbourhood as 87%, which is much higher.

So, do the authors discuss the effect of address or not?
hb_
1 / 5 (1) Aug 27, 2012
@RobertKarlStonjek

As for 'altruism', that is the conjectured part of the study. Even if there were no other alternative *that the researchers could think of* they would still have to establish the link between the results they obtained and the model they are presenting to explain the data (that the difference is altruism).


Well, I do not think they have to explain why the rich and the poor neighbourhoods differ with respect to altruism. They do, however, have argue why a returned letter indicates altruism, and I think they have succeeded in this respect. It is an act that does not benefit the agent directly, and one that is recognized by all as having positive effects for the recipient.
hb_
1 / 5 (1) Aug 27, 2012
@RobertKarlStonjek

As said above, I do not think it is necessary to explain why there might be differences in altruism in different neighbourhoods in order to quantify the differences.

To give you a more neutral example: you can measure the amount of airborne soot particles in different areas of London without actually knowing why there are differences (trucks? cars? motorcycles? factories? coal burning?).
hb_
1 / 5 (1) Aug 27, 2012
@RobertKarlStonjek

But, if you think it is so improbable, you can look at it another way. There are many aspects of life in a poor neighbourhood that is worse than in a well of neighbourhood. Crime is higher, and although only small fraction is involved in the crimes, the majority suffer from its effects.

Looking at the attitudes of the adolecent, you would also find that many (majority?) feels deprived, as if their money has been robbed from them. Home ownership is lower. Unemployment is higher, leading a feeling of hopelessness. The list goes on.

Would it not be extremely unlikely that the people living under such circumstances would be completely unaffected by these strong social impulses in other areas? And would it not be very strange that all of these negative impulses would bring out the best in people? I certainly think so..
RobertKarlStonjek
1 / 5 (1) Aug 27, 2012
On the address, I was referring to the address the letter is addressed to, not the address where the letter is left.

All the letters dropped in both communities are addressed to an upper class suburb. This must induce greater feelings of affiliation in the wealthy rather than the poor neighbourhoods...
RobertKarlStonjek
1 / 5 (1) Aug 27, 2012
The grievances you list do not justify a conclusion with regard to altruism. Guilt by association is not how science works. Just because all the indicators are that a particular society is bad as hell does not follow that some other negative property must also be attributed to them.

Science progresses by making hypotheses, which are presented as hypotheses (and models), and turning hypotheses into theory through careful testing (measuring etc). Thus the link between altruism and the letter drop experiment must be established before it enters theory. This has not been done...
hb_
1 / 5 (1) Aug 27, 2012
On the address, I was referring to the address the letter is addressed to, not the address where the letter is left. All the letters dropped in both communities are addressed to an upper class suburb. This must induce greater feelings of affiliation in the wealthy rather than the poor neighbourhoods...


There is still some missunderstanding, clearly. From your quote above, I gathered that the authors had allready observed this effect. Is this correct or not? I do not have access to the full article.
hb_
1 / 5 (1) Aug 27, 2012
The grievances you list do not justify a conclusion with regard to altruism. Guilt by association is not how science works. Just because all the indicators are that a particular society is bad as hell does not follow that some other negative property must also be attributed to them.


Of course not! Nobody has claimed that dissadvantageous circumstances prove that poor are not altruistic. But you are the one who is obsessing about why do the poor/rich act as they do. I am perfectly happy to regard the work for what it is: a fair measure of an altruism proxy in the case of a lost letter.
hb_
1 / 5 (1) Aug 27, 2012
@RobertKarlStonjek

Thus the link between altruism and the letter drop experiment must be established before it enters theory. This has not been done...


Yes it has. The link has been stated several times, but I can do it again: The act of posting a letter is an act that does not benefit the one doing it, and it has a clear benefit for the recipient of the letter. Posting a letter does not get you "credit" from a spectator and it entails a small work for the person who does it. A small gain for a perfect stranger at the cost of a hassle for the poster. It really fits the bill of an altruistic act.

So far, you have not been able to cast a doubt on this. Your alternative motivations (children, reading content etc) have either been disproven, shown to contain unrealist scenarios or shown to be based on pure speculation. Do we really have to go through this again?
RobertKarlStonjek
1 / 5 (1) Aug 27, 2012
Conceptual links and correlation does not mean causation.
hb_
1 / 5 (1) Aug 28, 2012
@RobertKarlStonjek

Looking at you comment above, I now see that your effect of the recipient is NOT something that the authors observed, but something that you have pulled out of your hat. Of course it is possible that that poor people would be less likely to post a letter to someone living in a rich area, but it seems unlikely. To do so, the finder of the letter would have to recognize that the recipient address is a in a wealthy neighbourhood.

Addresses are typically made up by the recipients name, the street name ( number), zip code and the town name. Now, to realize that an address belongs in the poor/rich category, the finder would have to have memorized Londons ~50-100 postal codes [1]. Or he would have to connect the street name - which in turn requires knowing the names of several tenths of thousands of streets - with either "rich" or "poor". I find both these possibilities unlikely.
hb_
1 / 5 (1) Aug 29, 2012
@RobertKarlStonjek

Conceptual links and correlation does not mean causation.


So what you are saying, is that altruistic acts is not a valid measure of altruism..? You cannot draw the conclusion that many acts of altruism indicates an increased level of altruism, and vice versa?