Greed ain't good after all, study concludes

Higher economic status correlates to rudeness and dishonesty, writes Brandon Keim in Wired.

As an individual’s wealth and status rise, so does their tendency to be unethical, concludes a new study of the relationship between socioeconomics and ethics.

The study included seven different experiments that spanned real-world and laboratory settings, from rude San Francisco drivers to test subjects given a chance to take candy from children.

“Occupying privileged positions in society has this natural psychological effect of insulating you from others,” said psychologist Paul Piff of the University of California, Berkeley. “You’re less likely to perceive the impact your behavior has on others. As a result, at least in this paper, you’re more likely to break the rules.”

The findings, announced Feb. 27 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, come at a moment when historical tensions over wealth and class have reached a fever pitch: Is greed good, and extreme wealth a sign of virtue? Does wealth corrupt, and should a society strive to be egalitarian in income as well as principles?

[read more]