Rich People More Likely to Behave Unethically

Rich People More Likely to Behave Unethically

If you've always thought that money corrupts, well, now you have science on your side.

In a series of experiments, psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley, found that wealthy and high-society people are more likely to lie, cheat and even cut you off in traffic than those who are less connected and have more modest financial means.

The experiments included findings like:

  • Those who drive more expensive cars are more likely to cut other cars and pedestrians off than those who drove clunkers
  • Wealthier people are more likely to admit they would behave unethically in variety of situations
  • Wealthier people are more likely to lie during negotiations
  • Wealthier people are more likely to cheat in an online game to win a $50 prize

Why Do the Rich Behave This Way?

"Elevated wealth status seems to make you want even more, and that increased want leads you to bend the rules or break the rules to serve your self-interest," says Paul Piff, the study's lead author.

In other words, mo' money, mo' greed. This jives with the fact that rich people are often not satisfied with their wealth, feeling like they need to seek ever-increasing income to achieve their goals and keep up with their peers.

The authors of the study also theorize that those with more money and social connections feel like they have more leeway to bend the rules. After all, it's much easier to get out of trouble when you have a lawyer on speed dial, or a network of buddies to call in favors for you. (It's also easier to cut someone off when you have a lot of horsepower under the hood and state-of-the-art safety features in your car.)

Meanwhile, those with less money and thinner social support don't feel like they have the same freedom to commit these indiscretions.

White Collar Criminals?

This study came at an interesting moment, as the news spits out stories of Ponzi schemes, insider trading and other high-society crimes and scandals. But cheating in an online game or lying during negotiations is a far cry from violent crimes like assault or rape. And the study's author pointed out that high rates of crime in low-income areas doesn't line up with their findings.

So does the fact that rich people are likely to cheat in a game point to a higher chance of more serious transgressions? That's a question for another study.

(CNN Health)

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