Across multiple studies, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have found that being in the upper-class predisposes individuals to acting unethically.
Studies conducted by psychology professor Paul Piff found those who drive luxury cars were less likely to stop for pedestrians, those with more money were more likely take candy from children, and the wealthiest among us were more likely to cheat in a game with a $50 cash prize. Researchers at UC Berkeley have also found lower-class individuals are more physiologically attuned to the suffering of others than their middle- and upper-class counterparts.
Piff has come under attack because of his research on socioeconomic classes.
“I’ve gotten a lot of hate mail and vitriol from people calling me out for junk science and having a liberal agenda,” he said. “Our findings apply to both liberals and conservatives. It doesn’t matter who you are. If you’re wealthy, you’re more likely to show these patterns of results.”
Though some might assume the wealthy gained their riches due to their unethical behavior, the effect appears to work in the opposite direction. Being wealthy is what drives the unethical behavior.
Piff manipulated the rules of a Monopoly game to show even lower class people began to take on the traits of the wealthy when provided with unfairly favorable circumstances. Those given an unfair advantage surprisingly believed they deserved to win the game. They attributed their successes to their own individual skills and talents, rather than their highly favorable circumstances. A higher class person put in an unfavorable position, on the other hand, began to take on the traits of the poor.
“If I take someone who is rich and make them feel psychologically a little less well-off, they become way more generous, way more charitable, way more likely to offer help to another person,” Piff explained. “Not just in this game of Monopoly, but in a whole bunch of other experiments that we’ve run where we make rich people feel poor or poor people feel rich.”