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 in a telephone interview. "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."