Study Finds Wealthy Americans More Likely to Break Rules

It all comes down to greed, according to researchers at UC Berkeley

By Neil Costes
|  Tuesday, Feb 28, 2012  |  Updated 6:38 PM PDT
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Researchers at UC Berkeley say wealthy Americans are more likely to break the rules compared to those with less money. Cary Berglund spoke to people in Glendale to get their thoughts on the findings.

Cary Berglund, Tom Bravo

Researchers at UC Berkeley say wealthy Americans are more likely to break the rules compared to those with less money. Cary Berglund spoke to people in Glendale to get their thoughts on the findings.

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Are wealthy Americans more likely to cut you off while driving? You bet, according to a new series of studies out of UC Berkeley.

But that's not all.

Researchers wanted to know how socio-economic factors affect a person's behavior, especially when it comes to making ethical choices. So they surveyed more than 1,000 people of various backgrounds, ranging from lower- to upper-class.

In one study on driving behavior, upper-class drivers were four times more likely to enter a busy four-way stop when it wasn't their turn.

They also were three times more likely to keep the pedal on the gas, instead of stopping for a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

You've probably heard the saying about how easy it is to take candy from a baby. The rich are inclined to do that, too, according to another study in the series.

In the presence of a jar of candy reserved for children, upper-class participants weren't shy about grabbing a handful. The study found they took twice as much candy as other classes.

Members of the upper-class are more likely to lie and cheat when gambling, the research found. For that part of the study, participants played a computerized dice game, and they were told the player with the highest score would receive a cash prize.

Upper-class participants were more likely to report higher scores than they actually received, the study revealed.

The bottom line? It all comes down to greed, said Paul Piff, UC Berkeley doctoral student and lead author of the study.

"The increased unethical tendencies of upper-class individuals are driven, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed," Piff told the UC Berkeley website.

"These findings have very clear implications for how increased wealth and status in society shapes patterns of ethical behavior, and suggest that the different social values among the haves and the have-nots help drive these tendencies," Piff said in the interview.

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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