Why Are The Rich Less Ethical?

"Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works."

(Time Healthland) Why the Rich Are Less Ethical: They See Greed as Good

A new study suggests that being wealthy primes people to act like jerks.
By MAIA SZALAVITZ@maiaszFebruary 28, 2012

While stereotypes suggest that poor people are more likely to lie and steal, new research finds that it’s actually the wealthy who tend to behave unethically. In a series of experiments — involving everything from dangerous driving to lying in job negotiations and cheating to get a prize — researchers found that, across the board, richer people behaved worse. But, rather than class itself, the authors suggest that it’s views about greed that may largely explain the difference.

In the first two experiments, University of California, Berkeley, psychologists positioned observers at San Francisco intersections to watch for drivers who didn’t wait their turn at lights or yield for pedestrians. The researchers noted the make, age and appearance of cars — a marker for the drivers’ socioeconomic status — as well as the drivers’ gender and approximate age.

If you ever thought that the guy driving a late-model Mercedes is more of a jerk than the one behind the wheel of a battered Honda, you’d be right. Even after controlling for factors like traffic density and the driver’s gender and perceived age (younger men tend to drive faster and often rudely), drivers of the newest, most high-status cars were much more likely to cut other drivers off.

“The drivers of the most expensive vehicles were four times more likely to cut off drivers of lower status vehicles,” says Paul Piff, a doctoral student at Berkeley and lead author of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Drivers in fancy cars were also three times more likely than those in beaters to threaten pedestrians by failing to yield when the walkers had the right of way at a crosswalk. So much for the theory that owners of expensive cars try to protect their vehicles from being sullied by common blood!

MORE: The Rich Are Different: More Money, Less Empathy

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