Wealthy more likely to lie or cheat: researchers
Published : Feb 28, 2012 - 11:45
Updated : Feb 29, 2012 - 09:43

Maybe, as the novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald suggested, the rich really are different. They're more likely to behave badly, according to seven experiments that weighed the ethics of hundreds of people.

The "upper class," as defined by the study, were more likely to break the law while driving, take candy from children, lie in negotiation, cheat to increase their odds of winning a prize and endorse unethical behavior at work, researchers reported today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Taken together, the experiments suggest at least some wealthier people "perceive greed as positive and beneficial," probably as a result of education, personal independence and the resources they have to deal with potentially negative consequences, the authors wrote.

While the tests measured only "minor infractions," that factor made the results, "even more surprising," said Paul Piff, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of California , Berkeley, and a study author.

One experiment invited 195 adults recruited using Craigslist to play a game in which a computer "rolled dice" for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate. The numbers each participant rolled were the same; anyone self reporting a total higher than 12 was lying about their score. Those in wealthier classes were found to be more likely to fib, Piff said.

"A $50 prize is a measly sum to people who make $250,000 a year," he said. "So why are they more inclined to cheat? For a person with lower socioeconomic status, that $50 would get you more, and the risks are small."

Poorer participants may be less likely to cheat because they must rely more on their community to get by, and thus are more likely adhere to community standards, Piff suggested. By comparison, "upper-class individuals are more self-focused, they privilege themselves over others, and they engage in self- interested patterns of behavior," he said in a telephone interview.

To be sure, Piff and his colleagues also said the associations they found were likely to have exceptions, pointing to Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., who has pledged the majority of his holdings to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other charities, and the whistle-blowing of Cynthia Cooper and Sherron Watkins, former officials of Worldcom Inc. and Enron Corp (ENRNQ)., respectively.

Less wealthy individuals also can behave badly, they wrote, noting the relationship between poverty and violent crime in previous research. They urged further study to determine the "boundaries" of bad behavior spurred by greed.

The studies Piff and his colleagues completed weren't meant to measure the ties between socioeconomic status and violent crime, but rather simple bad behavior, he said.

Some of the experiments offered visual evidence, for instance determining whether people with more expensive cars observed traffic laws in the San Francisco Bay Area, yielding to cars and pedestrians at an intersection, or whether individuals took candy identified as being set aside for kids. Others polled people on what decision they might make in a given situation.

In the traffic tests, about one-third of drivers in higher- status cars cut off other drivers at an intersection watched by the researchers, about double those in less costly cars. Additionally, almost half of the more expensive cars didn't yield when a pedestrian entered the crosswalk while all of the lowest-status cars let the pedestrian cross. These experiments involved 426 vehicles.

Another test asked 108 adults found through Amazon Inc.'s (AMZN) work-recruiting website Mechanical Turk to assume the role of an employer negotiating a salary with someone seeking long-term employment. They were told several things about the job, including that it would shortly be eliminated. Upper-class individuals were more likely not to mention to the job-seeker the impermanence of the position, the research found.

Meredith McGinley, an assistant professor at Chatham University in Pittsburgh who wasn't involved in the study, was critical of how some of the experiments were designed.

The design of the car experiments complicates the picture because having a flashy car doesn't necessarily mean the driver is wealthy, said McGinley, who studies positive social behavior. In the experiment involving candy, the participants were told they could have it even though the children were waiting for it. They may have felt they were doing nothing wrong, she said.

The research indicates that valuing greed leads to unethical behavior, not necessarily that social class causes bad behavior, McGinley said, adding, "greediness seems like a much more substantial predictor than income."

The study builds on previous research that has shown wealthy people are worse at recognizing how others feel and are more likely to be disengaged during social interactions than others, the authors wrote in the paper.

That seems to be the case even in primates, said Piff, who describes his status growing up as being "relatively comfortable, middle-class." Because of his education, he's now "probably upper-middle class," he said.

"It's not that the rich are innately bad, but as you rise in the ranks -- whether as a person or a nonhuman primate -- you become more self-focused," Piff said. "You can change that by reminding upper-class people of the needs of others. That may not be their default, but have them do it is sufficient to increase their patterns of altruistic behavior." (Bloomberg)


'돈많은 애인이 거짓말 잘하는 이유'

부유하고 사회적 계층이 높은 사람일수록 거짓말이나 속임수, 기타 비윤리적인 행동을 하위계층보다 더 많이 한다는 최신 연구가 나왔다고 라이브 사이언스 닷컴이 27일 보도했다.

미국 버클리 캘리포니아대학 사회심리학 연구진은 재산과 직업, 교육 수준을 근 거로 사회계층을 구분한 뒤 사람들의 행동을 관찰한 결과 부유층일수록 자기중심적 인 태도를 갖고 있어 비윤리적인 행동도 마다않는 것으로 나타났다고 미국립과학원회보(PNAS) 최신호에 발표했다.

연구진은 `어떤 사회 계층이 가장 비윤리적인 행동을 할 것 같으냐'는 질문은 논쟁을 시작하기 딱 좋은 소재이지만 이런 문제에 정면으로 부딪치는 것이 많은 악 행의 뿌리를 밝히고 사회에 중요한 영향을 미칠 수 있는 규칙위반 행위의 양상을 드 러낼 수 있을 것이라고 강조했다.

이들은 교통량이 많은 샌프란시스코만 지역의 네거리에서 끼어들기나 행인 앞지르기를 많이 하는 운전자들은 값싼 자동차보다는 고급 차량을 모는 경우가 압도적으로 많다는 사실을 발견했다.

또 대학생들과 전국에서 인터넷으로 모집한 성인 표본 그룹을 대상으로 한 네 종류의 실험실 관찰에서도 결과는 비슷하게 나타났다.

즉 자신을 상위 계층이라고 생각하는 사람일수록 무언가를 훔치거나 협상에서 거짓말을 하거나 돈 따기 게임에서 속임수를 쓰거나 직장에서 돈을 훔치거나 뇌물을 받거나 고객에게 대금을 과다청구하는 등의 비윤리적인 행동을 많이 하는 것으로 밝혀졌다.

더구나 이런 현상은 피실험자의 나이와 성별, 민족, 종교, 정치적 성향과 무관 하게 나타났으며 상위 계층은 하위 계층에 비해 비윤리적인 행동을 3~4배나 더 많이 하는 것으로 나타났다.

그러나 또 다른 실험에서는 비윤리적인 행동의 경향이 순전히 개인 품성의 문제 만은 아닌 것으로 드러났다.

연구진은 자원봉사 피실험자들에게 자신을 최상위 계층 및 최하위 계층과 비교 하도록 하는 과정을 통해 상대적으로 상위나 하위 계층의 심리를 갖도록 미묘하게 유도했다.

이어 옆 실험실의 어린이를 위한 것이라고 표시가 된 사탕 항아리를 놓아두고 이들의 행동을 관찰하자 스스로 상위계층이란 느낌을 갖게 된 피실험자일수록 사탕 을 많이 집어가는 것으로 밝혀졌다.

연구진은 "하위 계층 사람들에게 사회적 가치를 아주 살짝만 바꾸게 만들면 그 들은 상위 계층사람처럼 비윤리적으로 행동한다. 이런 행동 패턴은 타인에 비해 상 대적으로 부와 사회적 지위가 상승할수록 자연적으로 증가한다"고 밝혔다.

연구진은 좀도둑에 관한 2008년 연구에서 교육을 많이 받은 상위 계층일수록 좀 도둑질 경험이 많은 것으로 나타난 사실을 상기하면서 과속이나 속도위반도 고소득층에서 더 많이 나타난다고 지적했다.

이들은 또 청소년들에서는 상위 계층이나 하위 계층의 비행 양상이 비슷하게 나 타나지만 하위 계층 청소년들은 소외감과 따돌림, 필요한 것이 많아져서 비행을 저 지르는 반면 상위 계층 청소년들은 짜릿함을 맛보기 위한 모험심과 자신이 갖고  있는 힘과 지위에 대한 인식이 점점 커지면서 비행을 저지르는 것으로 나타났다고  밝 혔다.

연구진은 이밖에 1인당 소득과 1인당 폭력범죄 및 재산범죄 사이에는 아무런 상관관계도 없는 것으로 나타나 폭력범죄가 하위계층에서 더 많이 일어날 것이라는 고정관념을 깨뜨렸다고 말했다.

이들은 상위 계층이 비윤리적인 행동을 더 많이 하는 이유가 바로 비윤리적인 행동 덕분에 부와 지위를 누리게 됐기 때문인지 아닌지는 흥미로운 연구 대상이라면 서 "지난 50년간 미국에서 걷잡을 수 없이 확대된 불평등 현상을 이런 가설로 설명할 수 있을 것"이라고 지적했다. (연합뉴스)