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A recent study published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences claims that the upper class is more likely lie, cheat, cut people off in traffic, and endorse unethical behavior in the workplace.


The findings are based on seven separate studies UC Berkely researchers conducted  on the UC Berkeley campus, in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationwide.

Paul Piff, a doctoral student in psychology at UC Berkeley and lead author of the paper said, “The increased unethical tendencies of upper-class individuals are driven, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed.”  

Piff also said, “As these issues come to the fore, our research – and that by others – helps shed light on the role of inequality in shaping patterns of ethical conduct and selfish behavior, and points to certain ways in which these patterns might also be changed."

To investigate how class relates to ethical conduct, the researchers surveyed the ethical tendencies of more than 1,000 individuals of lower-, middle- and upper-class backgrounds. Volunteers reported their social class using the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Socioeconomic Status and filled out surveys revealing their attitudes about unprincipled behaviors and greed. They also took part in tasks designed to measure their actual unethical behavior.

Piff was careful to say that this was not a blanket indictment of the wealthy, nor an indication that those of other socio-economic classes are always without blame.

"We're not saying that if you're rich, you're necessarily unethical, and that if you're poor, you're necessarily ethical — there are lots of instances of increased ethical conduct among upper-class individuals, such as the tremendous philanthropy of Warren Buffett or Bill Gates."
More below the little Orange Squigglies of Class Warfare ...

“Occupying privileged positions in society has this natural psychological effect of insulating you from others. You’re less likely to perceive the impact your behavior has on others. As a result, at least in this paper, you’re more likely to break the rules.”
Paul Piff
In the Midst of Traffic
The researchers conducted two field studies on socioeconomic status and driving behavior. Upper class drivers were found to be four times more likely to cut off other vehicles at a busy four-way intersection than other drivers. Upper class drivers were also found to be three times more likely to cut off a pedestrian waiting to enter a crosswalk.

Watch a sample of Piff's study on the behavior of drivers as related to pedestrians attemtpting to cross the street, as posted on YouTube.

candy jar - _mg_1280
Another study involved a candy jar. Participants in the study were assigned tasks in a laboratory that contained a jar of candy reserved for children.  The participants were invited to take a candy or two.

Upper-class participants helped themselves to twice as much candy as did their counterparts in other classes.

Think about it, not quite literally stealing candy from a baby, but its awfully close.

“When pursuit of self-interest is allowed to run unchecked, it can lead to socially pernicious outcomes.”
Paul Piff
Another study found that upper-class participants presented with scenarios of unscrupulous behavior were more likely than the individuals in the other socio-economic classes to report replicating this type of behavior themselves.

Interview 6In the fifth study, participants each were assigned the role of an employer negotiating a salary with a job candidate seeking long-term employment.

Among other things, they were told that the job would soon be eliminated, and that they were free to convey that information to the candidate.

Upper-class participants were more likely to deceive job candidates by withholding this information, the study found.

“It was fairly remarkable. You wouldn’t think that people reporting incomes of $150,000 per year would be so motivated to win this prize.”
Dice five
In the sixth study, participants played a computerized dice game, with each player getting five rolls of the dice and then reporting his or her scores. The player with the highest score would receive a cash prize.

The players did not know that the game was rigged so that each player would receive no more than 12 points for the five rolls.

Upper-class participants were more likely to report higher scores than would be possible, indicating a higher rate of cheating, according to the study.

"Greed, for lack of a better word, is good."
Gordon Gekko in Wall Street
gordon_gekkoThe last study found attitudes about greed to be the most significant predictor of unethical behavior. Participants were primed to think about the advantages of greed and then presented with bad behavior-in-the-workplace scenarios, such as stealing cash, accepting bribes and overcharging customers.

It turned out that even those participants not in the upper class were just as likely to report a willingness to engage in unethical behavior as the upper-class cohort once they had been primed to see the benefits of greed, researchers said.

Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.
PJ O'Rourke
I don't find a lot of places where I agree wholeheartedly with PJ O'Rourke, but this quote sums up my feelings on this subject perfectly.

And now, as only he can, Willard "Mitt" Romney


Tue Feb 28, 2012 at  4:01 AM PT: Big thanks to SciTech and Community Spotlight for republishing!

Tue Feb 28, 2012 at 8:16 AM PT: h/t to ravagerofworlds2:

Remember, Science is a methodology, not some anthropomorphized deitic figure making proclamations.

In this case, social-scientists are making claims based on the evidence of their research which uses scientific methods.

When looking at social-scientific work, always look at their participants. If the participants were university students... argh, then you generally have junk data (students do not want to take the surveys, or they are required by some class- in essence, people hurry through a 25-35 min survey in under 2 minutes- so most of what we get is crap).

Tue Feb 28, 2012 at 9:00 AM PT: h/t to Cheez Whiz

It's either the most incredibly groundbreaking article ever, or they couldn't get it published anywhere else.

You get an article in PNAS by either being a member of the National Academy of Science or by having a friend who is a member.

This journal is NOT peer reviewed.

As satisfying as you may find the conclusions, the study has a high probability of being garbage.

Tue Feb 28, 2012 at 10:01 AM PT: h/t Bob B

Apparently PNAS is peer reviewed. Sorry for any confusion.

Originally posted to Salted and Cured on Mon Feb 27, 2012 at 05:48 PM PST.

Also republished by SciTech and Community Spotlight.

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