Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Does high social class lead to unethical behaviors?

See New Studies Determine Which Social Class More Likely to Behave Unethically from the National Science Foundation. Excerpts are below but George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen had some interesting counterpoints. See How good are the upper classes?
"A series of studies conducted by psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Toronto in Canada reveal something the well off may not want to hear. Individuals who are relatively high in social class are more likely to engage in a variety of unethical behaviors.

That is the finding of new research published in today's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and it's a doozy.

"Our studies suggest that more positive attitudes toward greed and the pursuit of self-interest among upper-class individuals, in part, drive their tendencies toward increased unethical behavior," said lead researcher Paul Piff of UC Berkeley."

"Participants then played a "game of chance" in which a computer "randomly" presented them with one side of a six-sided die on five separate rolls. Researchers told participants higher rolls would increase their chances of winning a cash prize and were asked to report their total score at the end of the game. In fact, die rolls were pre-determined to sum up to 12. The extent to which participants reported a total exceeding 12 served as a direct behavioral measure of cheating.

Greed "is a robust determinant of unethical behavior," the researchers write in the report. "Plato and Aristotle deemed greed to be at the root of personal immorality, arguing that greed drives desires for material gain at the expense of ethical standards." For this study, the researchers conclude that, in part, due to their more favorable beliefs about greed, upper-class individuals are more willing to deceive and cheat others for personal gain."

(Hat Tip: Bruce Norton)

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