A theory on losing your mobile phone

Sitting on the train home from dConstruct, I started pondering. What do you do when you lose your phone (and you don’t have MobileMe)?

Say you send your mobile number a text message; what would you write? My first idea was: “If you have found this phone, please contact me at [number].” Then I wondered if you should to include a reward. If you rationally jump the gun on this, you would say yes. At least, that’s what my train of thought did.

Yet there is a matter of cognitive dissonance here, I believe. I would pose that you would actually have more success without offering the reward. Or at least not offering it from the first text. Because if you would reach a genuinely good person, he or she would get turned off by your instant offering of a reward.

My reasoning in this relates to Festinger’s experiments on cognitive dissonance. in which subjects were asked to do a dreadfully boring, simple task for a long period of time. After the task, they would be asked to tell the next subject that the experiment was fun, which it obviously was not. The subject would get a reward for telling this lie. Half of them would get half a buck, the other half would get twenty bucks.

After performing the lie, the subjects would fill in a form with questions about what they thought of the task. Researchers found that the subjects who got the smallest reward said they enjoyed the task way more than the ones who got paid twenty bucks. Apparently, due to the small reward, the subjects would tell themselves that the task “wasn’t that awful”, “it was pretty okay” etc.

So my theory is that by offering a reward, you would remove the ‘good samaritan’ part of the act, and underestimate and undervalue the person you are actually communicating with. You would speak to a different part of the person, one whom might even try to bargain a higher reward. So by personally asking this person – in a friendly way – if you could get your phone back, would – I think – get you a higher success rate on actually getting the phone back, than directly offering a reward.

N.B.: I know the theory I pose is not actual cognitive dissonance, but more like an inverted version of it.