8th grader explores human nature, wins awards

Samantha Sorid of Harrington Middle School in Mount Laurel won awards at the recent Coriell Institute Science Fair. Her project, "Money or Morality," examined adults' behavior involving "found" money.
Samantha Sorid of Harrington Middle School in Mount Laurel won awards at the recent Coriell Institute Science Fair. Her project, "Money or Morality," examined adults' behavior involving "found" money. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 09, 2014

Samantha Sorid's award-winning science project taught her a lesson about human nature. Including her own.

"If you put your mind to it, you can do anything," says Sorid, 14, who is in eighth grade at Harrington Middle School in Mount Laurel.

Her findings about her fellow humans were less uplifting. About those, more in a moment. Let's just say that we the people do the right thing less often than we'd like to believe.

Titled "Money or Morality," Sorid's project took first place for her age group in the human-behavior category of the Coriell Institute Science Fair. It also won a special life-sciences award at the fair, held March 22 at Camden County College.

Sorid had to defend her work, on her feet and often without notes, before various judges.

"Samantha distinguished herself as an exemplary student scientist," Coriell president Michael Christman said in a statement. Her work, he added, "involved sophisticated, complex thinking about human nature."

"Money or Morality" examined what percentage of adults would pocket "found" money under different conditions.

Sorid left two sets of two quarters in plain sight near a fountain at Cherry Hill Mall on two November weekends, observing and taking notes from a distance as people spotted the cash.

"I wanted to watch people when they didn't know they were being watched," she says. "That way, you get the truth."

The variable: Sorid placed two of the quarters near an existing sign advising that coins tossed into the fountain are given to charity. She put the two other quarters in a spot from which the sign was not readable.

"I thought the sign would influence people to toss the coins in the fountain or just leave them," Sorid says. "I was surprised when the data showed just the opposite."

Of the 53 people who noticed the quarters near the sign, 15 took the money - while only 11 of 79 people out of view of the sign pocketed the quarters.

A total of 38 people from the sign and no-sign groups tossed the coins into the fountain; the rest left the loot undisturbed. The experiment cost Sorid (or rather, her dad) about $32.

Sorid theorizes that the sign "may have attracted people's attention to the coins. Or maybe people didn't trust the sign. . . . And in New Jersey, a lot of people ask you for donations. So maybe people have built up a filter to that."

The coin-snatching strategies sometimes were amusing.

"An older lady - kind of an average-looking person - kept circling around the fountain, waiting for the perfect time to steal the coins," Sorid says. "It was really funny, because I knew she was going to do it.

"But then, a small child came up and just took them. The money was gone. So the lady just left.

"Most people looked around before they took them. And some people announced it: 'Look, I found quarters!' "

In December, Sorid's project brought home a top prize from the annual science and math fair sponsored by the Burlington County Youth Achievers Committee. She took a third-place award Thursday at the Delaware Valley Science Fair.

Sorid also has received an invitation to participate in Broadcom, a national science competition for middle-school students.

"We're very proud of her," says her dad, Jon, a clinical supply-chain director with Johnson & Johnson.

"She worked really hard on this," says her mother, Debi, a preschool teacher at M'kor Shalom synagogue in Cherry Hill. The couple have two younger daughters.

Sorid and her parents credit Harrington science teacher Maureen Barrett for her guidance. Says Barrett: "Samantha put her heart and soul into this."

"I basically did it to learn something," Sorid says. "And I did."

kriordan@phillynews.com856-779-3845 @inqkriordan www.inquirer.com/blinq

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