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.Some details on the first four studies: Studies 1 and 2 were naturalistic field studies that used observers’ codes of vehicle status (make, age, and appearance,known to be reliable indicators of a person’s social rank and wealth) to index drivers’ social class. Observers stood near the intersection, coded the status of approaching vehicles, and recorded whether the driver cut off other vehicles by crossing the intersection before waiting their turn, a behavior that defies the California Vehicle Code. In study 3 participants who reported their social class using the MacArthur scale of subjective socioeconomic status read eight different scenarios that implicated an actor in unrightfully taking or benefiting from something, and reported the likelihood that they would engage in the behavior described. In study 4 participants were primed to activate higher or lower social-class mindsets. The experimenter then presented participants with a jar of individually wrapped candies, ostensibly for children in a nearby laboratory, but informed them that they could take some if they wanted. This task was adapted from prior research on entitlement, and served as our measure of unethical behavior because taking candy would reduce the amount that would otherwise be given to children. Participants completed unrelated tasks and then reported the number of candies they had taken.
Friday, March 09, 2012
The rich behaving badly
No big surprise, I guess, but here is a gem from Piff et al. that shows in a variety of different experimental settings that higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior. The authors agree with Plato and Aristotle, who deemed greed to be at the root of personal immorality.