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The Lost Letter

A small scale replication of the "Lost Letter" experiment

Matthew Peters

on 23 April 2013

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Transcript of The Lost Letter

The Lost Letter Origins My Experiment Results Conclusions Measurements of attitudes about sensitive social issues is difficult using standard self-report techniques
Popularized by Milgram, Mann, and Harter in 1965
Used to determine how helpful people are in a particular situation
Has become the most widely used non-reactive measure of societal attitudes "Lost" 84 letters in two different cities to test the effect of income level on altruistic behavior
42 letters were dropped in both Madison and West Point using 7 different locations and 6 different addressees
Locations were an open neighborhood, gated community, fast food location, restaurant, small retail store, larger retail store, and near a post office
Addressees names were picked in an attempt to control for ethnicity
Used a web-site to find the some of the most common first and last names for African-Americans and Whites
Molly and Connor Miller
Ebony and DeShawn Williams
Andrea and Corey Johnson Found a 7% higher return rate in the higher economic area
Preference towards the White names in Madison and African-American names in West Point
Gated communities had the highest return rates other than the ones dropped near the post office
Hope you do not drop a letter at a restaurant Matthew Peters Understanding social behavior Milgram's Experiment Dispersed 400 sealed, stamped and self-addressed envelopes in public places
100 envelopes each were addressed to 3 different organizations and 1 person:
Friends of the Communist party
Friends of the Nazi party
Medical Research Associates
Mr. Walter Carnap
Letters were "lost" in the streets, under car windscreen wipers, telephone booths, and in shops
"Participants" had the option to mail the letter, ignore it, or destroy it Milgram's Results Rate of return was the focus of the experiment
Medical Research Associates had a return rate of 72%
Personal letters were returned 71% of the time
The return rate was only 25% for each for Friends of the Nazi Party and Friends of the Communist Party
One interesting finding in Milgram's experiment is that some of the letters had been opened
40% of the letters to the Communist Party
32% of the Nazi Party
25% of the Medical Research letters
10% of the letters to Walter Carnap Replications Used to accurately predict the Johnson-Goldwater election
Researchers from UCL Anthropology used the lost letter technique to measure altruism across 20 London neighborhoods by dropping 300 letters
Found a strong effect of neighborhood income level on altruistic behavior
87% returned in wealthier neighborhoods
37% return rate in poorer neighborhoods
Stern and Fabor used the technique with e-mail in 1997 to test attitudes toward presidential candidate Ross Perot Demographics Madison
Estimated median household income of $91,848
84.6% White
10.2% African-American

West Point
Estimated median household income of $28,851
37.3% White
61.2% African-American

Source: http://www.city-data.com/ Altruism Defined altruism: the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others ( opposed to egoism ).

Source: www.dictionary.com
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