30 different studies conducted at the University of California at Berkeley have demonstrated that rich people exhibit unethical decision-making tendencies, ranging from being more likely to run you down with your car while driving to lying during negotiations, even cheating in a simple game of chance, just to win a $50 prize. Researchers at the University have been studying income inequality. As a part of that research they organized and conducted 30 different experiments, using subjects from all over the United States. They employed both experimental and naturalistic methods of research, simulated lab experiments and experiments in the field. The results were surprising, even to those conducting the research. One of the lead researchers, Paul Piff, says “We never expected to find this” when discussing the results of these varied studies, all of which showed consistent results, across the board – the people with money were more likely to act unethically, in both real and simulated experiments.
As explained in Exploring the Psychology of Wealth — a PBS News Hour special report — upper income participants were more likely to break laws while driving, take valued goods from others, endorse unethical behavior, such as cheating at work and they were four times more likely to cheat in order to win a prize. The studies were conducted using thousands of participants from across the United States. They also demonstrated less empathy, ruder behavior and became more demanding as simulated wealth and power increased.
What may be even more surprising, however, is how the thought of having money changed the behavior of even the most liberal participants in the experiment. In one experiment, participants were invited to play a rigged game of Monopoly, in which a subject who was selected by a roll of a dice, received a wide range of advantages over his opponent. Participants who received these advantages which included more money, more turns, more dice, more everything, indicated that they felt they deserved to win the game. This happened consistently, regardless of the person’s political or spiritual beliefs, even though the game clearly had been set up so that that person literally could not lose. Piff makes the comparison between the rigged game and real life, suggesting that once people begin to feel the influence of wealth and power, they lose sight of all the other factors that allowed them to get where they are. The results indicate what many people have sensed all along, that the rich feel more “entitled” than others, believing that they’ve earned success, even when it’s been given to them on a silver platter.
“Wealth and money come with a set of values” Piff states on the video. Among those values is the underlying belief that “generosity is for suckers”. In the published research paper, “Higher Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical Behavior” Piff and his colleagues suggest that some of the unethical tendencies demonstrated by the people who had wealth can be accounted for by the fact that the rich have a more favorable attitude toward greed. Statistics show that there is a significant tendency among the rich to “look out for yourself, if you’re at the top,” according to the researcher.
The question of whether the rich actually get rich and stay rich because they are more likely to do whatever it takes to accumulate wealth, including lie, steal and cheat, hasn’t really been answered here. What the video shows is that once someone has a sense of power and money, regardless of whether it’s real or imagined, unethical behavior increases. On the other hand, other experiments conducted by the research team indicate that when power and money are removed from wealthy people, empathy increases, compassion increases and they become more aware of the needs and concerns of others.
Here’s the video: