Tuesday, February 28, 2012

rich more likely to lie, cheat, and break the law...,

ScienceMag | Observers of human nature have long puzzled over the possibility of an ethical class divide. On the one hand, people with fewer resources and dimmer prospects might be expected to do whatever's necessary to get ahead. On the other, wealthy types may be more focused on themselves, because money, independence, and freedom can insulate people from the plight of others. They may also be less generous: Studies involving money games show that upper-class subjects keep more for themselves, and U.S. surveys find that the rich give a smaller percentage of their income to charity than do the poor.

To see whether dishonesty varies with social class, psychologist Paul Piff of the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues devised a series of tests, working with groups of 100 to 200 Berkeley undergraduates or adults recruited online. Subjects completed a standard gauge of their social status, placing an X on one of 10 rungs of a ladder representing their income, education, and how much respect their jobs might command compared with other Americans.

The team's findings suggest that privilege promotes dishonesty. For example, upper-class subjects were more likely to cheat. After five apparently random rolls of a computerized die for a chance to win an online gift certificate, three times as many upper-class players reported totals higher than 12—even though, unbeknownst to them, the game was rigged so that 12 was the highest possible score.

When participants were manipulated into thinking of themselves as belonging to a higher class than they did, the poorer ones, too, began to behave unethically. In one test, subjects were asked to compare themselves with people at the top or the bottom of the social scale (Donald Trump or a homeless person, for example.) They were then permitted to take candies from a jar ostensibly meant for a group of children in a nearby lab. Subjects whose role-playing raised their status in their own eyes took twice as many candies as those who compared themselves to "The Donald," the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In another test, participants were asked to list several benefits of greed; they were given the example that greed can help further one's professional goals, then asked to come up with three additional benefits. Again, lower-class subjects whose attitudes toward greed had been nudged in this way became just as likely as their wealthier counterparts to sympathize with dishonest behavior (taking home office supplies, laying off employees while increasing their own bonuses, overcharging customers to drive up profits).


nomad said...

people who lie, cheat, and break the law...more likely to be rich 

Uglyblackjohn said...

Most people act in a way which others permit them to.
Since wealth is so highly regarded in many societies and more status is given to it, those seen as being wealthy are given more outs when making mistakes.
Those who feel wealthy will assume that these new rules are a given and will act within this expanded sphere. 

Dale Asberry said...

Ahh, another study just came back to me on all this...

This other study (sorry, can't find link) discovered that poor people have to work together and share resources and hence are much more likely to engage in prosocial behavior. I'm betting this effect is a stronger driver since the wealthy have no need to share resources just to live.

nomad said...

Yeah. that's probably true. The rich are certainly the ones who can get away with cheating and breaking the law. Though the poor may be less inclined, they are the ones more likely to be prosecuted.

John Kurman said...

"Le secret des grandes fortunes sans cause apparente est un crime
oublié, parce qu' il a été proprement fait." - Balzac(Often translated as "Behind every great fortune is a great crime", but more strictly "The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been found out, because it was properly executed")executed.

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