A new UC Berkeley study claims that wealthy people are more likely to partake in unethical behavior.
Paul Piff spent nearly two years exploring whether higher social class is linked to higher ideals.
While most researchers use expensive labs and equipment to find their results, Piff hid in bushes near the Berkeley Marina and watched fancy cars cutting off clunkers at a four-way intersection.
In the traffic tests, about one-third of drivers in more expensive cars cut off other drivers, about double those in less costly cars.
Piff also set up pedestrians to enter the crosswalk as a car approached. He found that out of 426 cars, almost half of the more expensive cars didn’t yield to the pedestrian while all of the lowest-status cars let the pedestrian cross.
The study concluded that those with rich people were more likely to break the law while driving, take candy from children, lie in negotiation, cheat to raise their odds of winning a prize and endorse unethical behavior at work.
Piff told Bloomberg the solution is to find a way to increase empathy among wealthier people. Piff 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. 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.”
Other experiments involved offering candy reserved for children to people of different economic groups and setting up a self-reporting gambling game to see who was more likely to cheat. Piff told the Merc:
“The motivation for the work is not to be moralizing or to cast aspersions. The purpose is science, social science. I’m interested in how social status affects personal behavior.”
Some people have criticized Piff’s findings claiming the experiments were flawed. Meredith McGinley, an assistant professor at Chatham University in Pittsburgh told Bloomberg that the car test complicates the results because having a flashy car doesn’t necessarily mean the driver is wealthy.
Piff said his next study will explain how to change patterns of greed and selfishness when they emerge.