a peek inside the fishbowl

11 Mar, 2007

The Trust Experiment

Posted by andrea tomkins in: The Trust Experiment

the trust experimentLooking for updates? Please skip down to the comments below. Thanks!

I’ve received a couple of emails and one phone call about the Honesty Project, which I have since decided to rename the Trust Experiment because I realized it’s a better fit for what it is all about. Thank you for your interest so far. I’m glad that you [insert big wide sweep of arms] are interested and supportive of my funny whims. :)

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile you know that there are some kinds of  things that really appeal to me, things like community, randomness, and human behaviour.

Some of my favourite kinds of ideas and projects combine all of the above, like Bookcrossing, 1000journals, PostSecret, Found Magazine, and PostcardX.

I am the type of person who thinks a lot. I ask myself a lot of questions. I do a lot of wondering. Sometimes those questions are answered but more often they are not. I wonder what makes people do the things they do, how we express ourselves, and how we can all be different in some ways but incredibly alike in others. 

I’m not sure where the idea for the Trust Experiment came from. I haven’t seen anything like it before. It just came to me. If you are standing under a tree and a leaf happens to fall, do you reach out and try to catch it? I do. The Trust Experiment is one of those falling leaves.

Before I explain it I want to point out that some people will think the Experiment is a waste of time. 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.

It could be a long project. It could be short. But that depends on a bunch of different things including: community, randomness, and human behaviour.

Ha. I just reread what I wrote. I’ve made it out to seem a lot bigger than it actually is.

The Trust Experiment = one old wallet which contains a ten dollar bill and a note. I will leave it in my favourite neighborhood coffeeshop, hopefully, if management is cool with the idea, it will reside at the Bridgehead on Richmond Road near the MEC.

Here’s what the note will say:


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 Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

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 www.quietfish.com/notebook.


andrea t.

These are the questions I would like to answer:

– Will someone take the wallet? I’m hoping it can last at least 30 days.
– And what about the money? Will it disappear?
– Will anyone add any money?
– How many people will pick it up? Look inside? Sign the sheet?
– If the money is taken, who would take it? What were they thinking? (This would be pure speculation on my part, but still…)
– Regardless of the outcome, will be be fair to give it meaning? i.e. if the wallet goes missing on the first day can we chalk it up to bad luck or what?

edited to add: I was talking about this with someone yesterday and we debated the amount of “good” vs. “bad” people out there. Is it fair to say that the majority of us are “good” and wouldn’t take the wallet? Would you say 90% of us are “good” ? More? Less? Is it even fair to categorize people in this way? Do more “good” people hang out at my coffeeshop? Under what circumstances would someone take the wallet? 

So, what do you think? What would you do if you saw the wallet? And would you consider hosting a Trust Experiment in your own neighborhood?

I am secretly hoping to be pleasantly surprised, but I think it’s best to go into this with no expectations whatsoever. That way I can’t be disappointed in the results.

Now all I need is an old wallet. Hmmm.

* * *

(pics taken on official start date: March 21, 2007):

View of the second wallet… taken on the afternoon of April 1.

Second wallet is still goin’. This was taken the morning of April 9.

80 Responses to "The Trust Experiment"

1 | Marla

March 11th, 2007 at 4:55 pm


Will wait with baited breath to hear the outcome!

2 | thordora

March 11th, 2007 at 6:06 pm


Should be interesting.

3 | Hillary

March 11th, 2007 at 6:39 pm


It’s a great idea! I’d love to try it in my own neighbourhood! Hmm… where to start…

4 | Porter

March 11th, 2007 at 7:13 pm


Andrea, this idea is excellent. I’m very excited to see what happens.

5 | Ryan

March 11th, 2007 at 8:27 pm


Also very interested to see what goes on. The idea of ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ people is interesting, too, because it becomes a question of what people will do when they know there is no chance of punishment – is there a difference between someone who simply follows the law and someone who goes beyond? Are they both ‘good’?

Finding out how this goes definitely will be something interesting. Great idea!

6 | Tiana

March 11th, 2007 at 9:29 pm


If I had found it without seeing this first, I would just bring it up to the cashier without looking in it.

I’ve done this several times.

If somebody loses a wallet, they often remember where they left it so giving it to someone ‘in charge’ at that location is a safe bet to have it returned.

The people there would all have to be aware of it and replace it because I suspect this would happen often.

7 | Natalie

March 12th, 2007 at 11:32 am


Great idea Andrea – this totally brings back discussions of good vs bad in ethics classes. Can’t wait to see what happens. I agree with Ryan’s comemnts.

8 | anne turner

March 12th, 2007 at 1:59 pm


This is fun, Andrea. Only one suggestion, that if it goes missing one day, you might check it the following day because it may be returned to its place. I have had someone contact me with my lost wallet, that they had picked up and looked through in order to find contact information. I was extremely grateful. But someone might pick it up in an honorable attempt to return it to its owner before figuring out what it is.

9 | anne turner

March 12th, 2007 at 2:02 pm


Oh, sorry, kind of same thought as Ryan’s. It would be fun to film this, monitor the wallet, though I wonder how many people might take that into consideration, that they may be being watched in their decision what to do.

10 | zoom!

March 12th, 2007 at 2:33 pm


The wallet wouldn’t last an hour in my neighbourhood, but I’m optimistic it will last a month in yours. (But I don’t think it’ll contain more than $10, lol.)

My grandfather used to insist that everybody was 50% good and 50% bad. I argued with him for years that maybe some people were 51/49, but he wouldn’t budge.

It’s not even just about whether people are good or bad. I think people change over the course of their lives, and maybe someone who would have taken the wallet ten years ago, wouldn’t now.

Good luck with the experiment. I’m definitely going to be following this one.

11 | mariam

March 12th, 2007 at 4:41 pm


hi my name is mariam and i got a today and i am so happy to have a pte and love somepets love mariam

12 | BeachMama

March 12th, 2007 at 6:53 pm


Interesting experiment. I knw that many I personally would bring it to the cash, so the folks at the coffee shop would have to willing to deal with the wallet. Will be interesting to see how it all turns out.

13 | Lex

March 13th, 2007 at 8:19 am


I love this idea and I can’t wait to hear the results.

Should the wallet not be there one day, I ask only that you consider the posibility of another category to add to the good & bad: hungry-and-broke.

Many very good people have had times when hungry and broke has driven them to take action that many might consider “bad”.

If someone in that situation came upon The Trust Experiment and took $5 to get food for their kid, how would that be viewed? How would anyone even know?

14 | andrea

March 13th, 2007 at 8:20 am


I emailed the manager at Bridgehead this morning. We’ll see if he agrees to let me do it.

*fingers crossed*

15 | andrea

March 13th, 2007 at 8:23 am


Yeah, I thought of that. But poor people are trustworthy too. I think you’d have to be really hungry, and really broke to take the money.

And you’re right. You wouldn’t know, that is, unless someone saw it happen. This might twink the interest of Bridgehead staff enough for them to keep half-an-eye on it. Who knows.

16 | Sharon

March 14th, 2007 at 1:35 pm


What I would do with a found wallet is Take it to the manager.

Want to hear a funny story about perceptions people have of each other. This has to do with beards. BIG Beards.

My husband the most HONEST man I know used ot grow a beard every winter. He wouldn’t shave or trim it so by the end of the winter he would have quite a scuffy look to himself. He went to a bank machine and had to wait because another Man was using it. The man looked up at my husband and quickly got he card and left. Glancing over his shoulder many many times. Jack never thought much of it until the man’s money and recipt came out. The banl being close my hubby took it in the next day and asked if they could tell from the recipt which account the money came from. They said yes and he gave the money and asked them to put in that man’s account.

So apparently men with Scruffy beards are Dangerous harden crimanals.

Talk about trust in your fellow man.

And no he doesn’t grow a beard anymore. Too much grey in it.


17 | Sharon

March 14th, 2007 at 1:36 pm


Oh and I can’t wait to see what happens.

18 | Sheila Durno

March 14th, 2007 at 2:41 pm


Interesting project Andrea. My thought about the “hungry and broke” question is … would someone who is hungry and broke be hanging out in Bridgehead?

19 | andrea

March 15th, 2007 at 7:29 am


Sheila: you’re probably right. Westboro isn’t exactly the kind of neighborhood that would attract transients. But we do have our fair share of crazies. :)

In other news: the trust experiment is a go. I have permission to lose my wallet. I am set to buy a second-hand one today!

20 | Lex

March 15th, 2007 at 10:08 am


woo hoo! Let the experiement begin!

Will you take a photo of the wallet when you leave it?

21 | unsweetened.ca

March 15th, 2007 at 12:42 pm


The Trust Experiment…

My friend’s have the coolest ideas!!! andrea from the fish bowlhas started a fascinating experiment in human behaviour. She calls itThe Trust Experiment. Sheis taking an old wallet inserting a $10 bill and, after coordinating with the manager of her f…

22 | andrea

March 15th, 2007 at 3:15 pm


Wallet has been bought! It is PERFECT. And Lex, OF COURSE I was going to take a photo. My goodness. What a silly question.

23 | andrea

March 19th, 2007 at 7:13 am


A trust experiment update is coming later today. Stay tuned!

24 | andrea

March 19th, 2007 at 8:16 am


Okay. It’s set to go today. I think I am going to tape a post-it to the top of the wallet that says “LOOK.” It might tempt more people to look inside instead of just turning it in (which is what I would do.) What do you think?

25 | sandy

March 19th, 2007 at 11:19 pm


the notes turn it into a controlled experiment- people will think they are being watched and watched people are honester.

what about a plain $10 bill on the table. What’s the address of the coffeeshop? can i get there fast from NB?

I know if I performed this experiment in my kitchen, the $10 would be gone faster than you can say “hock my hams with jellied yams”

good luck.

26 | liss76

March 20th, 2007 at 9:09 am


I agree with the pp about the note. What if you made the “look” less obvious? Stenciled it onto the wallet with a drab, yet still noticable, fabric paint or something?

I’d be tempted to stencil “lost wallet” right onto it–but that’s mostly because I’d like to watch what folks would do with a wallet named “lost wallet”. LOL

27 | andrea

March 21st, 2007 at 1:05 pm


Day one.
The wallet is officially in place. I left it on the front counter at Bridgehead this morning. I gave B-head staff a letter with a description of the project.

So, I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens now… :)

28 | andrea

March 22nd, 2007 at 12:09 pm


Day two. It’s still there! I had a meeting at Bridgehead at lunchtime and took a quick looksee. Unfortunately, the front counter was packed with people and I didn’t want to elbow my way in there to check the contents. BUT one of the Bridgehead staff told me someone put some money inside it! Yay! I am thrilled to bits.

29 | andrea

March 23rd, 2007 at 12:54 pm


Day three of the Trust Experiment. A conversation with myself:

“So what did you expect would happen?”
“I’m not sure.”
“What do you mean you’re not sure?”
“Just that, I’m not sure.”
“Well, you must have had some idea.”
“I guess …”
“Okay. Let me put it this way. What did you hope would happen?”
“I hoped that after a month the wallet and the money would still be there.”
“With how much money?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I was hoping to leave this experiment with eleven dollars. That’s it. I would have been extremely happy with eleven.”
“That’s only one extra dollar.”
“I know, but that’s not the point.”
“Then what is the point?”
“I didn’t want the money to disappear.”
“But you knew that might happen.”
“Of course I did. But I was hoping that it wouldn’t.”
“And now …”
“As you know, it’s not there anymore. Wallet and all are gone.”
“You asked the staff … ”
“Yeah. They said it was there yesterday. Earlier that day the sum total contained in the wallet was $10.25. So I know that the letter was read by at least one person. And that at least one person trusted enough to put a quarter in there.”
“A quarter isn’t saying much you know.”
“That’s not the point.”
“What is the point?”
“At least one person trusted.”
“Does that make you a bit happier?”
“Yes, it does.”
“But you’re still disappointed, aren’t you? I know you.”
“I shouldn’t be, but I am. A little. Now I’m just wondering about the person who took the wallet. And I’ll never know the truth.”
“You, my dear, are a sentimental old fool.”

31 | Lex

March 23rd, 2007 at 5:12 pm


I’m sorry you are disappointed.

32 | Porter

March 23rd, 2007 at 9:18 pm


ahhhhh no way!
that does suck…badly.
maybe they will read it and come back…wishful thinking?


and totally unrelated and inappropriate but was that your new red purse you bought at target? i love it.

33 | sandy

March 23rd, 2007 at 9:59 pm


sorry, i am going to be a downer.
your experiment had preconceived expected outcomes.

If you wanted the funds in the wallet to grow, then you should have out a note on the table saying so, then watch what happens.

You said the experiment was about trust, not about investment and growth. You proved the trust factor, by all the people who walked by it and didn’t touch it! One adventourous and brave person picked it up and put something in it- that’s the person who would have stolen it if not for the note.

You actually proved the trusty thesis- that people are trustworthy, they’ll ignore a left behind walletm, thinking “Oh, some buddy’s left their wallet here.”

I’m in for the next ten bucks, i bet that the wallet shows up empty, waiting for another installment. If the wallet shows back up empty, i’ll mail you $10 bucks to put in it again, trusting that you won’t go down to Bridgehead (wot’s bridgehed precious?) and blow it on expensive trendoid coffee.

34 | liss76

March 24th, 2007 at 9:44 am


One adventourous and brave person picked it up and put something in it- that’s the person who would have stolen it if not for the note.

I disagree with that, actually. A lot of people will pick up an abandoned wallet or purse and check for ID so they can contact the owner and, thus, rescue the important item from disappearing with the less-trustworthy.

I don’t like the inference that someone picking up a wallet means they are not trustworthy.

This experiment has struck me as being similar in spirit to the swap boxes. People have seen them and used them, but there are a few bad apples who would rather destroy them and ruin it for everyone.

I’m sorry it turned out this way. Will you be trying it anywhere else to see if there is a different outcome in a different setting? Like a library or something?

35 | andrea

March 25th, 2007 at 9:35 am


Thanks for you comments everyone. I might go back again today or tomorrow and double-check to make sure it’s really gone.

As you could probably tell by my previous comment I’ve been fairly divided on the issue of the wallet’s disappearance.

This experiment doesn’t prove anything one way or another. I did it because I thought it would be interesting. Sandy, the experiment was about trust, and that was the main point. Could I trust that the wallet would stay there? Can I trust other people with it? Could other people share that trust too? The investment part was secondary, and was added partly as a carrot. Would someone be less likely to steal if it was for charity? And I certainly didn’t want to ask people to add money to the wallet and then keep it for myself.

The problem is that this was a very unscientific study. We don’t know how many people saw it, or how many took the extra step to pick it up and look inside. As Mark pointed out, all it takes is one person to ruin it. Perhaps ruin is a harsh word, let’s say, “change the outcome” instead, because we don’t know if the person who took it was poor, or not.

Despite the fact that my neighborhood lies on the tony side of the tracks, there are still needy people here. And transients. But that doesn’t mean that it was taken by someone who truly needed the money. It could have been someone who just looked inside and thought the whole thing was completely idiotic and that the money deserved to be taken.

“Ha! Ten bucks! Great!”

Anyway, yes. I might try it again. Liss, the library is a good idea, but I’m not close enough to our local branch to check it regularly. Perhaps at Starbucks this time? :)

I would love it if someone out there took this experiment and was able to beat the three day record.

36 | andrea

March 25th, 2007 at 9:36 am


And Porter: yes, that’s my Target purse! :)

37 | sandy

March 25th, 2007 at 7:58 pm


hmm, maybe a trust experiment at various coffeehouses… are the customers at starbux more trustworthy than Bridgehead or Tim’s…

liss76 makes a good point- only the very trustworthy or the untrustworthy pick up a lost wallet- the folks who ignore it maybe don’t want to get involved.

38 | a peek inside the fish bowl

March 27th, 2007 at 7:16 am


[…] talk about the Trust Experiment? » Filed under Media consumption by andrea at 7:16. » Share This back totop […]

39 | Lex

March 27th, 2007 at 9:57 am


Wooo Hooo!!! Local Ottawa morning show or on the Current or Sounds Like Canada?

remember – we can all listen through http://www.cbc.ca/listen/index.html if we know when and what to turn to!

40 | andrea

March 27th, 2007 at 10:19 am


I’ll be on the local program – CBO morning – around 7:45 a.m. Woot!

41 | DaniGirl

March 27th, 2007 at 12:07 pm


Hey, what happened to my other comment? Bloody untrustworthy internet!

Hmm, I had said something like I’m sorry that the wallet disappeared, but still love the idea of the whole exercise. Very interesting to see what might happen with other locations, like the library or other coffee shops, but I would be uncomfortable with any conclusions extrapolated from your results.

Can’t wait to hear about it on Friday!

42 | andrea

March 27th, 2007 at 12:24 pm


This was not a scientific kind of study. Simply put, I wanted to know what would happen if I left a wallet out in the open. With cash in it. I found out that in this case it lasted three days. There are a million unanswered questions here i.e. how much money was in the wallet when it went missing? How many people saw it? How many people picked it up?

I think it goes without saying that we can’t extrapolate any reasonable kind of information about people (and their temptation to steal, or their desire to support this kind of project) from this result. But it still provides good fodder for discussion, doesn’t it?

Let’s put it this way: what would you do if you found a wallet? Let’s say it had ID inside it. And money. Is it okay to keep a small amount of money? (We’d have to define what small is exactly.) And if there was NO WAY that anyone would find out you’d taken the money, would you? And how would you justify this to yourself? When does the “finders keepers” rule apply and when does it not?

p.s. this experiment isn’t over yet. Stay tuned for the re-run. I am confident we can beat three days.

43 | a peek inside the fish bowl

March 30th, 2007 at 7:45 am


[…] I just returned from a great interview on CBC radio about the Trust Experiment. Hallie Cotnam is so sweet. And smart. […]

44 | andrea

March 30th, 2007 at 2:52 pm


The second wallet is officially installed at the Westboro Bridgehead. Let’s cross our fingers and hope it sticks around a little longer than the last one did.

45 | Porter

March 30th, 2007 at 7:14 pm


Oh good…I haven’t listened to your interview yet (my head is in a fog today…so tired) but I will. I really want this to work, I was so disappointed with ‘the first wallet’ results. Crossing my fingers.

46 | andrea

March 31st, 2007 at 7:39 pm


Great news on day one of the Trust Experiment! We checked the wallet earlier this evening and there was over $24.00 in there! Wow! There were a lot of signatures and kind comments on the info sheet. I wish I’d brought my camera. When I check again tomorrow I will definitely bring it. I’m so excited!

47 | andrea

April 1st, 2007 at 3:18 pm


Day two of the Trust Experiment: the wallet is still there. A bunch of people have signed the letter and added their comments. I didn’t count the money (don’t ask! I was in a rush) but someone added it up for me … there is now $37 in there. Yay!

I added a new pic of the wallet in the post above.

48 | Porter

April 1st, 2007 at 4:44 pm


I’m so happy about this…yeah!!

49 | Helene

April 1st, 2007 at 9:00 pm


Wow! I’m just catching up and this is sooo cool! What an interesting idea. Can wait for the updates.

50 | liss76

April 2nd, 2007 at 7:03 am


You just got another plug on the CBC morning show!

51 | andrea

April 2nd, 2007 at 8:09 am


Day three: we’re up to $45.00. I need to go back and tuck in another sheet for comments/signatures. The first one is filled up!

52 | Lex

April 2nd, 2007 at 10:30 am


[warning – this comment is a little… well… negative.]

Toronto version of the Trust Experiment.
Place wallet filled w/ credit cards, id and $100 in your coat pocket (aka 2 week’s spending money). Go to your neighbourhood S*bucks.
Sit and sip your beverage discussing business with your spouse for an hour and a half.
Get up to continue your lovely day and pray that some jerk hasn’t lifted your wallet.
My trust experiment failed.

53 | andrea

April 2nd, 2007 at 11:13 am


Oh no! Lex! That’s terrible.

54 | Lex

April 2nd, 2007 at 12:24 pm


I hold to the (possibly flawed) belief that the person who took it must have needed it more than I did.

55 | andrea

April 3rd, 2007 at 11:15 am


Day four: dollar amount hasn’t changed, but the wallet is still there.

56 | andrea

April 5th, 2007 at 1:16 pm


Day six: still there! There’s about 60 bucks in it. I’m debating whether I should continue announcing the increasing dollar amount. Hmmm. Any thoughts?

57 | liss76

April 5th, 2007 at 6:13 pm


Maybe make it a little less overt–announce only the % increase, perhaps?

I would worry about the possibility of someone following this purely to wait until it hits a “nice” number and then go nab the wallet..

..but then again, this *is* the Trust Experiment, right? ;o)

58 | Porter

April 5th, 2007 at 10:52 pm


I am so happy this is working out. Hmmm…I don’t know what you should do. Have you been getting extra traffic from lurkers?

59 | andrea

April 6th, 2007 at 6:34 pm


Porter: I don’t know, and I can’t tell from my stats.

Liss: I think a smart enough person could calculate the increase. :) I am torn. I really want this experiment to succeed. And I also really want CHEO to get the money. Mark suggested I take some money out as more money gets put in … but that wouldn’t be very trusting, would it?

Anyway, the wallet has been out there exactly a week. And it’s still there. And yes, there’s more money in it. And happily, more people have signed and added their comments added to the letter. I’m going to have to go back tomorrow and add a third piece of paper. If I have time I’ll copy some of the comments for those who are following along. (You are still out there right?)

You know what? The longer the wallet remains unstolen the more I feel like my faith is restored in humanity. Most people wouldn’t take the wallet, do you agree? Here’s a question… what percentage of our population do you think would take it?

I need to think about that a bit. I’ll come back and try to answer it later.

60 | zoom!

April 7th, 2007 at 3:21 pm


The wallet and the experiment are so famous now that half of Bridgehead would tackle anybody who tried to take it.

61 | Paul O

April 8th, 2007 at 1:49 am


I’ve lost track of some details of your plan, but I wonder if you would want to collect some of the added money for remission to CHEO, and make note of the fact on the paper in the wallet.

Surely the experiment doesn’t require the full and growing amount to sit in the wallet for the duration? Does it?

62 | liss76

April 8th, 2007 at 5:53 pm


That’s a good idea–maybe empty it every couple weeks and leave a note of how much was removed from the wallet and donated.

63 | Porter

April 8th, 2007 at 10:04 pm


The fact that the wallet is still there, the list is growing, and the moola is increasing makes me smile. I think Mark, Paul O and liss76 are right about removing some money. At the same time, it is true, this IS a trust experiement…removing the money does imply that you (we) think someone will take the money eventually. It would just be a shame if the money went to some shitty (for lack of a better word) character.
I would love it if you shared what people have written on the notes.

64 | andrea

April 9th, 2007 at 8:49 am


Well this is quite the turn of events, isn’t it? I haven’t checked it today (I will!) but I have been thinking about this unexpected development. What should I do with the money that’s accumulated in the wallet?

I really didn’t think this idea was going to resonate with anyone but me. I never really expected to generate any funds with this thing. I would have been happy if, by the end of it, the wallet had eleven bucks in it: my original ten with the addition of a dollar from one likeminded stranger. That would have been enough for me. But now there’s more. Much more. And that is fabulous.

Should I take the extra money out and put it aside? That doesn’t seem right. This experiment is about trust. It would be a shame if someone took it at this stage, but I need to trust my fellow man (and woman!) whether there’s $11.00 in it or $111.00.

I’m trying not to get my hopes up at this early stage. It’s best not to expect anything. I really don’t want to be disappointed, especially since so many people are playing along. I’m still trying this for a month. I don’t think it’s too lofty of a goal. Okay, perhaps a little. But it’s possible. That means it has to go until April 30. That’s the date I’m aiming for.

What do you think? Can it last that long?

I asked a question earlier in my comments. Ha. I will answer it myself since no one took the bait. :)

>”Most people wouldn’t take the wallet, do you agree? Here’s a question – what percentage of our population do you think would take it?”

I think that most people would not take the wallet. (I’m talking about this particular wallet, not a wallet found on the street etc.) And by most I mean the mass majority. But what percentage? That’s a big guess on my part, but I think that if you put 300 people in a room one of those might consider taking it if the circumstances were in their favour.

I am guessing that a very small percentage would add money and play along. I think most (more than half?) people probably think this is a silly undertaking, and not worth doing.

BUT, the comments on the letter have been very positive and totally fuel my fire. Porter, I will definitely bring back some copies of the people’s comments later today. Stay tuned!

65 | andrea

April 9th, 2007 at 11:25 am


The wallet is still there… ! Here are just a few of the messages people have left so far:

“I think this is an amazingly simple test of human nature. I think it’s beautiful and fits the feeling of awakening in the spring air.”
– Stacey

“This is one area that I would really like to grow into… trust of strangers especially. We all have to trust more.”

April 2 – “You made me smile at a time when I was losing trust. CHEO has made a difference in the lives of the children in my family and so many other kids I know – let’s hope this works.” – Diane

April 2 – “Still trusting”

April 3 – “What a terrific idea! Thanx for returning our faith in humanity!” – Martha

April 4 – “We were created to trust …” – Rev. F

April 6 – “Charity is not supposed to have strings attached” – Liz

April 7 – “This will make me feel good all day”

April 9 – “I trust / and wish that the whole world would” – SL

66 | Porter

April 9th, 2007 at 6:59 pm


LOVE that!
Thanks for sharing some of the comments.

“Most people wouldn’t take the wallet, do you agree? Here’s a question – what percentage of our population do you think would take it?”

I would have said (and still think) 10% or more of the population would take the wallet (without a note encouraging them to look inside).

This whole experiment made me think about an old friend of mine who approached an ATM where there was a $50 in the machine which was obviously forgotten by the customer before her. She took the money and never reported it to the bank. It was discussed amongst a group of about 20 people that evening when she met up with us and the majority of the group said they would keep it and not report it to the bank. I was shocked and disappointed by this because that money could be returned to the owner as the bank would have records I’m sure. I wouldn’t even consider keeping the money.

I am an honest person and I am proud of this and I live an honest life. It’s a shame that more don’t….doesn’t mean I believe others are all that honest. Perhaps I need to work on trust and forgiveness.

67 | andrea

April 10th, 2007 at 7:55 am


Porter: really? You think about of every hundred people ten would take it? You’re talking about wallets in general right, not this one (with the note inside and everything…)

Because that seems high to me. Or perhaps I’m just naive?

68 | Porter

April 10th, 2007 at 1:41 pm


i’m talking about wallets in general. in this instance i think the numbers are skewed the opposite way, that people who might normally be happy to take ‘lost’ money would actually leave/add to this stash.

69 | andrea

April 10th, 2007 at 8:11 pm


Bad news folks. Wallet #2 is officially gone. I was at Bridgehead looking for it twice today. I spoke to the staff and we think it went missing sometime this afternoon.

I hate to say this, but there was nearly $100 in there when I checked it yesterday.


So this one made it about 11 days. I am secretly hoping that it turns up. I will be looking for it. I hope you do too.

I wonder if the person who took it is reading this. Now wouldn’t that be interesting?

70 | kim

April 10th, 2007 at 9:34 pm


I’m so sorry to hear that. I was feeling really good about people in general.

I hope it turns up.

72 | Marla

April 11th, 2007 at 7:48 am


It’s like a balloon that inflated, then the air was let out.

Then another balloon was blown up, and everyone added air to it – and nobody could know how even more beautiful it was and how happy it made people feel, until it was so inflated -then someone popped it.

73 | andrea

April 11th, 2007 at 7:59 am


I think you described that pretty well Marla. I’m heartened by the knowledge that a lot of people ended up sharing my hope and my optimism, and were willing to trust. I wasn’t alone. That’s very cool in my books.

The outcome is a little sad, I know, but all in all I would say this was still a fairly successful experiment. A wallet full of cash was out in the open for ten days… potentially seen by hundreds of people. I’d say that’s not entirely bad.

74 | Porter

April 11th, 2007 at 9:31 am


How disappointing, although in a way I feel like it’s pretty amazing that it lasted as long as it did and that people added money to the wallet.

I think I will choose to believe that the person who took it really needed it even though in reality I’m finding that hard to believe.

The whole experiement was very interesting, thank you Andrea.

75 | phantom-sigh

April 13th, 2007 at 4:00 pm


I read this only two days past the last posting here.
That puts it on a Friday, a Friday with a 13.
(Heard this morning that, in Italy, 13 in not a bad luck number, but rather a good luck number; this contrasted (presented as a foil to) with the fact that for ‘pagans’ — pre-Christians — 13 was also a good luck number, and that it was the Church that in one of its attempts to stamp out un-christianity, transformed 13 into a bad luck number)
When I first heard of the project, the first wallet had flown.
I came across the wallet project on the (first) CBC interview … and was fascinated. I meant to go by and visit every day, but real life intervened…
So when I finally catch up, fate has chewed it up and done whatever with it.
Perhaps it’s for the best,
Perhaps it’s for the worst.
(the best lent a helping hand, and the worst …)
Any chance of another try?

76 | phantom-sigh

April 13th, 2007 at 4:16 pm


Apologies for referring to the Trust Experiment as
the wallet project … but I couldn’t resist … given that the ultimate recipient of close to $100 has rendered the whole experiment into little more than an exercise in tax collection; no matter how lofty the ideals, how fascinating the exercise in sociology (or societal analysis), or how valid the need to teach the value, and need, for trust.
Dozens or hundreds of people paid homage to the thought,
certainly thousands were touched by the effort,
and tens or hundreds of thousands knew of the expirement (ok, experiment, but what first came out seems apropos) …
yet it took only one to pierce the trust and take …

Another wondered what the proportion amongst us is of those who would, and do, breach the Trust …
perhaps we now know, sort of — it is
one among dozens, or hundreds, or thousands …
So many, but so few.

… the lost phantom poet

77 | Have you arrived via the CBC? >> a peek inside the fishbowl

May 1st, 2010 at 8:41 am


[…] can read about The Trust Experiment here. You already know how it ended, but I recommend checking out the comments to get an idea of how […]

78 | A bit about those lunch tweets - and some food for thought >> a peek inside the fishbowl

August 8th, 2012 at 8:54 am


[…] Calendar. And come to think of it, so did the Moments of Bliss, the Sugar Fast, Couch-to-5K, the Trust Experiment, and even the cookies we baked in the car a couple of weeks ago. I don’t do it for the […]

79 | Walden is wandering! >> a peek inside the fishbowl

July 3rd, 2013 at 10:15 am


[…] Walden is our little family project. It’s the Trust Experiment with a bit of geocaching thrown along with a measure of social media. Hopefully there will be […]

80 | a peek inside the fishbowl » Blog Archive A Thanksgiving surprise - a peek inside the fishbowl

October 9th, 2023 at 10:59 am


[…] and (mostly) didn’t question my oddball projects and whims. Regular readers may remember the Trust Experiment, the Shopping Embargo (which I actually wrote a book about and it never saw the light of day!), the […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (24) and Sarah (22). During the day I work as a writer at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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