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Brother can you spare 11 dimes?

Ever been accosted by a panhandler who asked for 72 cents? I always used to wonder if there was a reason some of them asked for random sums — I actually figured, Heh, maybe I should give this guy something, just to acknowledge his being different. (I never did, however; it's better to give to a good charity, I think.)

Anyway, now I know. The Economist reports:

In an experiment a few years ago, students posing as beggars found that they received small change 44 percent of the time that they asked directly for it without specifying a sum. If they asked for a precise sum that was a single coin (25 cents), they got it 64 percent of the time. But if they asked for an apparently arbitrary number (37 cents) they got it 75 percent of the time. The more precise and unusual the request, the less people were able to resist it.

The whole article is interesting — it's more than a little scary how humans can be manipulated into doing things we don't really want to do. (Though I'd like to think at least a few of the seemingly duped philanthropists in that study were in fact deliberately rewarding the students for being slightly less tedious in their solicitations. ... )

May 6, 2002 1:31 PM

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