UWA survey investigates if living in a poorer suburb makes people more or less community minded

The breakdown of findings from the experiment.
The breakdown of findings from the experiment.

RESEARCHERS from The University of Western Australia conducted a social experiment to discover if the socio-economic status of a suburb, including Kwinana suburbs, had an effect on altruistic behaviour.

The experiment tested who would take the trouble to return a lost letter.

It involved six UWA students deliberately dropping 300 letters, half of them unstamped, on the ground in 15 residential suburbs of varying socio-economic status around Perth, to see which ones would be returned.

After counting the letters that were returned, the researchers concluded that a suburb’s socio-economic index had a significant effect on whether a letter was returned.

Also, altruistic acts – unselfish acts in which one person seeks to help another – decrease in frequency when costs increase, even minimally.

Out of 300 letters, 92 stamped and 42 unstamped letters were returned.

Similar studies have been carried out, involving dropping letters to see which ones would be returned, but this time researchers applied a simultaneous element by introducing cost – the price of a postage stamp for the unstamped letters.

The lead author of the study Cyril Grueter said he predicted that spontaneous voluntary acts to help others would be less prevalent in areas of low socioeconomic status.

“Other studies have already concluded that poorer neighbourhoods are characterised by low neighbourhood quality, high crime rates and low social capital and trust, and low rates of civic engagement” he said.