Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Which of the Rules Actually Apply to Bloomberg?

PNAS |  Seven studies using experimental and naturalistic methods reveal that upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals. In studies 1 and 2, upper-class individuals were more likely to break the law while driving, relative to lower-class individuals. In follow-up laboratory studies, upper-class individuals were more likely to exhibit unethical decision-making tendencies (study 3), take valued goods from others (study 4), lie in a negotiation (study 5), cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize (study 6), and endorse unethical behavior at work (study 7) than were lower-class individuals. Mediator and moderator data demonstrated that upper-class individuals’ unethical tendencies are accounted for, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed.

Which social class is the more likely provenance of unethical behavior, the upper class or the lower class? Examining how social class is associated with unethical behavior, or actions that harm others and are illegal or morally objectionable to one's community (1), would shed light on behaviors such as cheating, deception, or breaking the law that have important consequences for society. On the one hand, lower-class individuals live in environments defined by fewer resources, greater threat, and more uncertainty (2, 3). It stands to reason, therefore, that lower-class individuals may be more motivated to behave unethically to increase their resources or overcome their disadvantage.

A second line of reasoning, however, suggests the opposite prediction: namely, that the upper class may be more disposed to the unethical. Greater resources, freedom, and independence from others among the upper class give rise to self-focused social-cognitive tendencies (37), which we predict will facilitate unethical behavior. Historical observation lends credence to this idea. For example, the recent economic crisis has been attributed in part to the unethical actions of the wealthy (8). Religious teachings extol the poor and admonish the rich with claims like, “It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven” (9). Building upon past findings, in the present investigation we tested whether upper-class individuals—relative to lower-class individuals—are more likely to engage in unethical behavior, and whether their attitudes toward greed might help explain this tendency.

Social class, or socioeconomic status (SES), refers to an individual's rank vis-à-vis others in society in terms of wealth, occupational prestige, and education (2, 3). Abundant resources and elevated rank allow upper-class individuals increased freedom and independence (4), giving rise to self-focused patterns of social cognition and behavior (3). Relative to lower-class individuals, upper-class individuals have been shown to be less cognizant of others (4) and worse at identifying the emotions that others feel (5). Furthermore, upper-class individuals are more disengaged during social interactions—for example, checking their cell phones or doodling on a questionnaire—compared with their lower-class peers (6).