According to a new study conducted by researchers from University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Toronto, people who consider themselves upper class are more likely to have unethical behavior. The study results published in the, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that the upper class members were more likely to have bad behavior, when compared to others who are not on the same economic level.
Researcher Paul Piff, a PhD candidate in Berkeley’s psychology department, points out that if rules are not strictly enforced, upper class people are more likely to break them and take advantage of the situation. He adds that studies like this show how status affects the behavior and how one views the world.
In this study, the researchers carried out seven different experiments, both in and out of the lab, to see how the status of the people affects the behavior of the people so that they act with disregard to other’s welfare. In one of the experiments the researchers noted that those who drive expensive cars are more likely to cut off other drivers at an intersection when compared to those people who move about in less expensive and luxurious vehicles.
In the second experiment, the researchers tried to cross an intersection to see if they would be cut off by any vehicles. The observations showed that they were most often cut off by drivers of expensive cars. They showed complete disregard to the pedestrians when compared to other drivers at the same intersection.
Although people do buy automobiles which are well beyond their means, owning an expensive automobile is considered to be the indicator of status and wealth for many people. But there are very less poor people who would buy a very expensive car that would affect the results.
According to social psychologist Nicole M. Stephens, an assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, the mixture of experiments used increase the value of the study. Furthermore, the study examines the behavior in the real world setting as well as in the lab which adds to the strength of this study. Stephens remarked that the study shows how the social class contexts affect everyday behavior and interactions.
People who considered themselves to be in the upper class behaved poorly in the lab experiments also. About 129 undergraduates were asked to rank themselves on a social scale relative to others around them. They were asked to take a candy after they were dismissed. Researchers noted that upper class took more candy than others even though the candy was really meant for children.
In another simple experiment, the participants were told to report the full score after rolling five, six-sided dice. The arrangement was in such a way that all of them would receive a score of 12. But many of the upper people class reported to have got a score of 30, the highest possible score with five dices. Many others reported the scores to be in 20s.
In another of their experiments, the researchers found that encouraging the ‘greed is good’ attitude may trigger the unethical behavior in both upper class and lower class people. Behavior of a person could be changed by changing the belief about greed.
Psychologist and George Mason University professor of education Martin Ford, PhD, also appreciates the study. As the same basic phenomenon is proved beyond doubt by using a variety of experiments, it adds to the evidence. Many people make the choice for a situation by justifying the thinking and action as exception or not applicable to one’s self-concept of responsibility. Self-interest is good for competition and innovation, but one must act within the rules of the situation.