Photo Illustration by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images.
Does the size of your bank account influence how ethically you behave? A new study out this week from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests just that.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the study found upper-class individuals to be much more likely to partake in unethical behavior than their more financially-deprived counterparts. In one experiment, the researchers recorded the behavior of 274 drivers at a four-way intersection near a downtown Berkeley intersection. The results? Drivers with the priciest cars were four times as likely as drivers of the least expensive cars to cut others off. Interestingly, as the Times points out, "[t]he discrepancy was even greater when it came to a pedestrian trying to exercise a right of way."
Other experiments showed that those of higher socioeconomic status were also more likely to pocket extra change handed to them by mistake, cheat to win a prize and, yes, even take candy from a child, according to the LAT recap.
But what some might explain away as behavior learned through social upbringing doesn't appear to hold up in the study's findings. The researchers say that anyone who suddenly joins the top 1 percent—by, say, winning the lottery—is prone to shift toward unethical behavior.
One reason for the correlation may be that the rich are less dependent on social bonds for survival, in turn putting their self-interest first while holding fewer qualms for behaving badly toward others, the researchers suggested.
Some have already accused the study's lead author, Paul Piff, of waging class warfare with his research from the traditionally left-leaning Berkeley campus, but he insists that he hopes his research will help bridge policy gaps. One solution? Making ethics classes mandatory for all business and economics students, he told NBC News. He also noted that even just watching a film on childhood poverty encouraged people of all classes to behave more ethically toward others.
You can read the study, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, here.