Time: Where Are the Most Honest Places in America? Let’s Read the Tea Leaves

August 27, 2012

Honest Tea set up pop-up stands across the country, asking customers to pay $1 per tea, and filmed the results. Would you pay?

If you took an iced tea from an unmanned kiosk this summer when no one was watching, you might have been part of a giant social experiment conducted by Honest Tea.

The iced tea maker tested Americans’ ethics by setting up pop-up booths in 30 different cities this summer. Curiously missing, though, was any sign of a cash register. Instead, the company asked people to pay on an honor system — just $1 per drink, put into a money box located next to the vending machine. Would you pay, or just walk off with the tea? What patrons didn’t know was that a camera lay hidden nearby, recording exactly who paid. Yes, Honest Tea was judging you. The company analyzed their findings and compiled the National Honesty Index, ranking the tea-takers based on their honesty, organized by demographics.

The groups are diverse: they categorize people based on the city they live in, their hair color, and even their extracurricular interests — based on where the tea kiosk was in each city, from baseball games to swanky shopping streets. They gleaned that in Philly, blondes were more honest than brunettes, 96% of people with beards are honest, and Miamians are more likely to steal when wearing sunglasses. When it comes to the battle of the sexes, women bested men by four percentage points, 95 to 91.

But what were the most honest cities? Salt Lake City and Oakland — both with 100% honesty — take top honors. And the least honest locale? Brooklyn’s Atlantic Terminal. Only 61% of people paid for their teas at the large mall and transit hub in the New York City borough.

It’s not all ominous, though: most cities scored in the 90s. A rollerblader in Anaheim who stole a bottle even skated back 30 minutes later to pay. Americans are more honest than cynics might expect.

-Time, August 27, 2012