Most people like the idea of being rich but would they be willing to become greedy and unethical to make their millions?
When we were young, we were taught to always be honest and never cheat. The phrase "Cheats never prosper" was drummed into school children to deter them from the temptation to make their own rules in order to win or get ahead. But a study has shown that people who don't heed this advice are indeed prospering, albeit at others' expense.
The US study looked at the relationship between socio-economic class and social emotions and behaviours, and ran tests on people from different socio-economic classes to find out their attitudes towards unethical behaviour and immoral conduct.
Whilst the results revealed that unethical behaviour was most common amongst the wealthy and often motivated by positive attitudes to greed, the researchers behind the study stressed that it does not mean that everyone of high status behaves unethically, nor that everyone in lower society behaves ethically.
"We're not saying that if you're rich, you're necessarily unethical, and that if you're poor, you're necessarily ethical there are lots of instances of increased ethical conduct among upper-class individuals, such as the tremendous philanthropy of Warren Buffett or Bill Gates," said researcher Paul Piff, a social psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley.
At this time of rising economic tension and increases in the gap between the super-rich and those on the poverty line, the study looked to reveal how class relates to ethical conduct and what could be done to change society for the better.
"As these issues come to the fore, our research and that by others helps shed light on the role of inequality in shaping patterns of ethical conduct and selfish behaviour, and points to certain ways in which these patterns might also be changed," Piff said.
As part of the study, volunteers completed surveys about their attitudes towards unprincipled behaviours and greed and took part in seven tasks designed to reveal their own likelihood to behave unethically.
1. Two of the tests carried out were field studies on driving behaviour, where upper-class motorists were found to be four times more likely than the other drivers to cut off other vehicles at a busy intersection.
2. ....and three times more likely to cut off a pedestrian waiting to cross the road at a zebra crossing.
3. Another study found that upper-class participants presented with scenarios of unscrupulous behaviour were more likely than the individuals in the other socio-economic classes to report replicating this type of behaviour themselves.
4. In the fourth study, participants were assigned tasks in a laboratory where a jar of lollies was available for visiting children, and they were invited to help themselves.
Upper-class participants helped themselves to twice as many lollies as did those in other classes.
5. In the fifth study, the participants were each assigned the role of an employer negotiating a salary with a job candidate seeking long-term employment. They were told that the job would soon be made redundant, and that they were free to warn the candidate of this information.
Upper-class participants were more likely to deceive job candidates by withholding this information.
6. In the sixth study, participants played a computerized dice game, with each player getting five rolls of the dice and then reporting his or her scores, with a cash prize for the highest score. The game was rigged so that each player would receive no more than 12 points for the five rolls, but the players did not know this.
Upper-class participants were more likely to report higher scores than would be possible, indicating a higher rate of cheating.
7.The last study found attitudes about greed to be the most significant predictor of unethical behaviour. Participants were primed to think about the advantages of greed and then presented with bad behaviour-in-the-workplace scenarios, such as stealing cash, accepting bribes and overcharging customers.
It turned out that even those participants not in the upper-class were just as likely to report a willingness to engage in unethical behaviour as the upper-class cohort once they had been primed to see the benefits of greed, researchers said.
"The increased unethical tendencies of upper-class individuals are driven, in part, by their more favourable attitudes toward greed," confirmed Piff.
Whether an increase in money corrupts an individual’s principles or if the acquisition of money is a result of being unethical in the first place, remains to be seen.
So, who still wants to be a millionaire?!
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