Babies' mugs sooth savage... wallet thieves


I have a theory about my safety in traffic when riding my "mamabikeorama," a bicycle-built-for-me-and-my-kids. I feel I'm safer on it than if we were riding in the manliest of SUVs. Why? Because my toddler rides between the handlebars, totem of cuteness. Who'd get road rage against us, even if I pulled some amazingly dumb traffic move?

My theory has been tested, in a way. Of 240 wallets left on the streets of Edinburgh by researchers, 42% were returned by honest folks. (None of the wallets contained cash.) Which wallets were returned, however, was telling. The study's designers put additional items in some of the wallets: a photo of a baby, a puppy, a family, or an elderly couple; one set included a receipt for a recent charity donation. Of the wallets with baby photos, 88% were returned, compared to those with puppy photos at 53%.

The family photo wallets were returned slightly less than half the time, whereas the elderly couple's photo only inspired 28% of finders to return the wallets. (Perhaps this says something about why the elderly are so often the victims of fraud; is it psychologically easier for criminals to take advantage of them?) Giving to charity, evidently, made barely any impact on those who found wallets; only 20% were returned. However, wallets without any personal items whatsoever were returned even less, 15% of the time.

Richard Wiseman, one of the study's authors, said that the "baby kicked off a caring feeling in people, which is not surprising from an evolutionary perspective." Baby's cuteness inspires the hormone oxytocin (the "cuddle hormone") which, in turns, makes one feel protective and loving. Puppies have less of a biological impact (given the difference in species), but they're still cute, after all.

It's fun to imagine how else this concept could be applied; could a cute-baby screensaver keep your laptop safe from would-be thieves? Are bicycle with baby seats stolen less often? Could terrorists be deprogrammed by papering their cells with photos of my adorable kids? And I'd love to see the study repeated with a small amount of cash in the wallet. How much is a cute baby's face worth?

At any rate, if you've got a wallet and you tend to lose it, go out, immediately, and get a baby photo. Please feel free to download one of mine. And if your lost wallet is returned, by all means, feel free to send me the reward...