The Social Experiment in the Office Cubicle, Part II, 23 August 2013


Good Evening:

If you haven’t read Part I, you would do well to start there.

First thing when I arrived at work this morning, I headed straight to the cubicle to see the results of our experiment. And this shows you what I found.


Yes. Both dollar bills gone.

The gentleman who contributed the second dollar bill (as Adam Savage might say, “We do this for science!”) had believed that after a few weeks both bills would still remain on the cubicle cabinet and had planned to keep adding dollar bills until at least one finally disappeared. As it happens, no security video cameras cover this part of the office; hence, we have no way of identifying the person(s) who took the bills. And it could have been anyone. No point in trying to guess who might done the whodunnit.

Yet whilst the bills have gone, other questions remain.

  1. The big one: who took them?
  2. Why was one bill ignored, yet two snapped up immediately?
  3. If the second bill also had a sticky note, would either have been taken?
  4. What if the lone bill had been a fiver, a ten-spot, or a Benjamin? Would it still have lasted as long as the George Washington?
  5. What would have happened had two $1 bills had been taped to the cubicle cabinet from the beginning?
  6. And what about motive? In this ridiculously expensive city, $2 can still get you a small-sized coffee in many places, including tip. It will also allow you to board the bus. Sounds like motives to me. Or perhaps the taker realized that somebody was conducting an amateurish experiment, decided that the whole stunt was silly, and took the money as a form of retribution?
  7. Would the results have been different if the location was the office of a charitable foundation? A mutual fund firm? A Congressperson’s reelection HQ?
  8. What if the experiment had taken place in New York City, New York or Midwest City, Oklahoma? Would the results have differed?

Believe it or not, location is relevant. Back in college, one of my Psych classes studied a curious social experiment from the 1960s. The experimenters parked a car on a sidewalk in Manhattan and propped open the front and rear hoods, to give the impression that the car had been abandoned. They wanted to see how it would take before someone started looting, and they wanted to see who the looters would be. After a few hours, a car with an upper-middle to upper class Caucasian family (mom, dad, son, daughter) stopped next to the test car, and those nice, clean cut white people stole a few items from the vehicle. As time went on, more and more looters stopped by for plunder, each group poorer than the previous. The final looters were African-American.

The experimenters repeated the same test in the San Francisco Bay Area. And waited for the looters.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

After days of boredom, one of the experimenters finally threw a brick through the windshield. Then and only then did the looters appear, and in roughly the same order as the Manhattanites.

But getting back to our little bit of science, we three pseudo-scientists rated it a fun experiment overall, aside from the lost dollar. Worth trying in your workplace, I daresay.

Incidentally, after work today, I espied two lonesome pennies lying together on the sidewalk. I scooped them up.

Later, as I waited for the bus, I watched a woman crossing the street as her scarf fell off her neck, yet she didn’t notice. Three men, including yours truly, shouted, “Wait! You dropped your scarf!”

Selective altruism: another reason why human critters are such odd ducks.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–If you have not yet visited the Mythbusters’ Breaking Bad special on the Discovery website, I strongly recommend visiting. The Ozymandias parody is sheer brilliance.


6 responses »

  1. Pingback: The Social Experiment in the Office Cubicle, Part I, 22 August 2013 | The San Francisco Scene--Seen!

  2. I think you would enjoy Daniel Kehneman’s Thinking Fast And Slow, if you haven’t read it already. I think it was there that I read about the experiment with the honesty box and serve-yourself coffee.

    When the experimenters put a photo of a face looking out at the coffee-making person, the percentage of people who paid for their coffee was much higher than without the face.

    I thought of it when I read about your experiment with the dollar bills…

    • Dear Mr. Bennett: Thanks for the suggestion. I took a few psychology courses in college with the idea that they might help with my fiction writing, and it sounds like this book might prove useful as well. Vonn Scott Bair

  3. Pingback: The Efficiency & Trust of the Saxophone, 13 April 2014 | The San Francisco Scene--Seen!

  4. Pingback: The Return of the Social Experiment in the Office Cubicle! | The San Francisco Scene--Seen!

  5. Pingback: The Result of the Return of the Social Experiment in the Office Cubicle! | The San Francisco Scene--Seen!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s