Study: Wealthy People More Likely to Lie, Cheat and Take Candy From Kids

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There are behavior differences between haves and have-nots, research shows. Even imaginary wealth (or poverty) in a board game can temporarily influence attitudes and behavior.

Upper-class people are more prone to unethical behavior, research indicates.

In a series of experiments, University of California at Berkeley psychology professor Paul Piff found that people who are better off act differently from their poorer peers. A PBS Newshour segment documented some of his findings, which include:

  • While 90 percent of California drivers follow a law requiring them to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks, people who drive luxury vehicles are three to four times more likely not to.
  • In an experiment where people were left in a video-monitored room with a bowl of candy they were told was for kids coming by later, wealthy people took twice as much candy as poorer participants.
  • A test of honesty in reporting dice rolls found that people making $150,000 a year cheated four times as much as someone who made $15,000 a year. Participants were told the prize for the best rolls was a $50 cash prize.
  • In a Monopoly game rigged to give a randomly selected player extra starting cash and dice rolls, the player who had that advantage was more likely to say he deserved to win based on his skills (rather than his luck in a coin toss at the start).

The wealthy were also more likely to lie during negotiations, and to endorse stealing at work, Piff’s research found.

Piff told PBS he has taken a lot of guff for junk science and for having a liberal agenda, but says the findings apply equally to liberals and conservatives, whether rich or poor. The results were “consistent across 30 studies on thousands of people all over the U.S.,” PBS says. PBS also has a companion story about how wealth influences generosity.

Stacy Johnson

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