The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences just recently published a series of studies looking at "upper class" individuals and their behaviors. Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Toronto found that rich people tend to act more unethically than people who are not rich.
For example, "upper class" individuals are more likely than others to break the law while driving and make unethical decisions. They also tend to be more comfortable with cheating in order to win a prize, and they are more likely to lie during a negotiation.
In one particular study, research participants were presented with a jar of candy and told it was going to be given to a group of children in an adjacent laboratory. They were also told they could take some of the candy for themselves if they wanted to do so. Researchers discovered that rich people, on average, took about twice as much candy for themselves as did non-rich people.
Researchers argue that "upper class" individuals have a positive attitude toward greed and are interested primarily in themselves. They also argue that rich individuals feel a level of protection from prosecution that others do not enjoy, and they see themselves as above the law.
I think the researcher's conclusions regarding the reasons why "upper class" individuals do the things they do are not based on fact. Instead, they are guesses about motivation that may or may not be true. But, it seems that these studies were conducted in a reasonable manner, and I think their findings are probably valid.
It is important to note that, although rich people may be more unethical than others, poor people tend to engage in more violent crime and are considerably more likely than others to end up in prison.
P. K. Piff, D. M. Stancato, S. Cote, R. Mendoza-Denton, D. Keltner. Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012.
Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.
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