Are the Rich Jerks? See the Science

F. Scott Fitzger­ald was right. The rich real­ly are dif­fer­ent from you or me. They’re more like­ly to behave uneth­i­cal­ly.

That’s the find­ing of a group of stud­ies by researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley. The research shows that peo­ple of high­er socioe­co­nom­ic sta­tus are more like­ly to break traf­fic laws, lie in nego­ti­a­tions, take val­ued goods from oth­ers, and cheat to increase chances of win­ning a prize. The result­ing paper, “High­er Social Class Pre­dicts Increased Uneth­i­cal Behav­ior,” [PDF] was pub­lished last year in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences.

Per­haps most sur­pris­ing, as this sto­ry by PBS New­sHour eco­nom­ics reporter Paul Sol­man shows, is that the ten­den­cy for uneth­i­cal behav­ior appears not only in peo­ple who are actu­al­ly rich, but in those who are manip­u­lat­ed into feel­ing that they are rich. As UC Berke­ley social psy­chol­o­gist Paul Piff says, the results are sta­tis­ti­cal in nature but the trend is clear. “While hav­ing mon­ey does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly make any­body any­thing,” Piff told New York mag­a­zine, “the rich are way more like­ly to exhib­it char­ac­ter­is­tics that we would stereo­typ­i­cal­ly asso­ciate with, say, ass­holes.”

via Dan­ger­ous Minds

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Comments (19)
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  • Charles DuFarle says:

    And not for the first time. The ancient Greek admo­ni­tion “All things in mod­er­a­tion.” Bar­bar­ians were those who did not water their wine (AKA Mace­do­nians). But for the Greeks sin was not being in con­trol of ones self. We know it as pow­er cor­rupts absolute pow­er cor­rupts absolute­ly.

    BTW A fan­ta­sy I have, Is that for the ancient Roman Latin trans­la­tion of Gen­e­sis 3:24 if one inserts a cir­cum­flex then “tree of life” becomes “woody vine” and thus becomes the first inci­dence of tough love because of drug depen­dence.

  • jae_pie says:

    I would­n’t make an over­gen­er­al­iza­tion like that. I can’t say “all of them” because I don’t know every detail. That would be an une­d­u­cat­ed state­ment. There is good and bad in every­one; rich or poor. Every­one has to learn how to bal­ance it all, but where there’s con­for­mi­ty-this is when things get a bit robot­ic and expec­ta­tions of swim­ming with the stream are almost required. I find peo­ple that need to ‘con­form’ a bit lost and unsure of what they want; they need oth­ers to make deci­sions for them. What’s the point of being a human being if you don’t even­tu­al­ly think for your­self and use your God giv­en brain. Are peo­ple using more than 10% ONLY 10% of the pop­u­la­tion, in the US, for cry­ing out loud? I sure hope not.

    My answer is-not all of them…just the con­formist with­in that soci­ety and that goes for any oth­er social group.

  • Joel Lewis says:

    Charles — your fan­ta­sy is a lit­tle bad­ly worked out. For some­one who appar­ent­ly has some knowl­edge of Hebrew, I would have expect­ed you to also know that in the Gen­e­sis sto­ry the first cou­ple don’t actu­al­ly eat from the tree of life, but from the tree of the knowl­edge of good and evil. They are then expelled to pre­vent them from eat­ing from the tree of life. So it’s more a sto­ry of effec­tive pro­hi­bi­tion .….

  • Olivier says:

    Well, here “rich” or “poor” rather works as a proxy than an explana­to­ry vari­able per se.

    I explain: the fast BMW, the rigged Monop­oly game are attrib­ut­es of the rich, but more impor­tant­ly a sig­nal of pow­er and/or self-con­fi­dence. So when the kid who is win­ning is act­ing more like an alpha dog, I believe it is sim­ply his inner self that is say­ing “hey, you’re in con­trol here.” And the play­er that is bound to lose acts as a dom­i­nat­ed dog.

    I am not too sur­prised by the results but I would be very care­ful to pin it down to “mon­ey” and not “pow­er.”

    Also, I did not read the exper­i­ment but peo­ple should be very care­ful about the set­up of the exper­i­ment: is Cal­i­for­nia polar­ized by rich and poor dis­tinc­tion ? What is the dis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth in Cal­i­for­nia (to see the base rate) ? Aren’t uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents (and Berke­ley’s in par­tic­u­lar) spe­cif­ic in their char­ac­ter­is­tics ?

    Last­ly, wealth could be (I insist on the “could”) linked to capa­bil­i­ties and the capac­i­ty of see­ing the whole sys­tem and act strate­gi­cal­ly in con­se­quence: “if there is a pos­si­bil­i­ty to cheat, it is me or the oth­er, so it rather be me.” When it comes to lying in a nego­ci­a­tion, well… it’s a nego­ci­a­tion, no ? ;)

  • Carole M. Di Tosti (@mercedeskat45) says:

    The research is inter­est­ing but skewed, like all research to a result. There are more stud­ies cur­rent­ly on the wealth gap; it’s a hot top­ic and cer­tain­ly the researcher protests too much about how “he was sur­prised at viral­ish inter­est of the pub­lic who emailed him, etc. The main prob­lem I have with the ini­tial research is that there are no “true” rich indi­vid­u­als. The folks he used, stu­dents from Berkley are not roy­al­ty, nor are they kids whose par­ents are hedge fund CEOs,with 10 res­i­dences in cities through­out the world. They are at best upper mid­dle class. The rich are chauf­feured. Mer­cedes and BMWs are afford­able mid­dle class cars…often the high end ones BMWs are leased and charged to the busi­ness. So we’re talk­ing the West Eggers of Gatsby…and those folks demon­strate the worst val­ues as Fitzger­ald point­ed out…those are the ones that con­duct­ed them­selves as if they were at a car­ni­val or cir­cus. Dif­fer­ent from the rich who would nev­er sit for such a test. That alone should have been includ­ed in the exper­i­ment. So what it real­ly shows is the gra­da­tions of eco­nom­ic class…but it puts a thesis/antithesis argu­ment struc­ture which is patent­ly and abject­ly rot­ten argu­ment, and so gen­er­al as to be mean­ing­less. Noth­ing is ever as sim­ple as thesis/antithesis (argu­ment for the stu­pid). (Lis­ten to the tone of the media announc­er who is dis­dain­ing and super­cil­ious) It once again shows the main­stream medi­a’s relent­less need to boil down com­plex­i­ty into very incor­rect sim­ple constructs…that dis­cour­age thought and lead to very wrong con­clu­sions that brain­wash. By the way, I dri­ve a Mer­cedes because my moth­er was killed in a car acci­dent. I dri­ve the afford­able one…I’ll have the car for 10 years and hope­ful­ly get 250,000 miles with it… I live in a two room apartment…and I know more like me who are gen­er­ous and car­ing peo­ple. I have a Ph.D. and my degree allowed me to study research prac­tices in depth…ha, ha, ha. Most social sci­ence research and med­ical sci­ence research is ter­ri­ble flawed and is used to prove con­structs that are wide­ly gen­er­al­ized and base­ly untrue. That is not to say all research is bunk…one must look at each exam­ple. Who has time for that? If math­e­mat­ics is involved…then all the better…but the bot­tom line…the results are open to inter­pre­ta­tion. Heisen­berg’s uncer­tain­ty prin­ci­ple rocks.

  • Carole M. Di Tosti (@mercedeskat45) says:

    To add, the researcher is mov­ing along the lines of some­thing main­stream media would pick up and report on…again, a cur­rent trend. The film the East throws this con­struct on its head…in a few inter­est­ing twists. But as for the .001% of rul­ing elites? The lit­tle peo­ple are can­non fod­der… You don’t have to do research to prove that. All you have to do is live in on this plan­et for 40 years and you get the pic­ture.

  • Hanoch says:

    First, just assume the wealth of a dri­ver by the type of car he is dri­ving. Then, just assume that if he or she went out of order at a 4‑way stop sign, he made a con­scious deci­sion to out­gun his road­way “adver­sary”. Unbe­liev­able.

  • Susara says:

    Good point, Car­ole, and well stat­ed.

  • paradoctor says:

    We knew this already, but it’s nice to have sci­en­tif­ic con­fir­ma­tion.

  • Dave Heide says:

    i love the rich. they’re very tasty.

  • Jennifer Marie says:

    Can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve seen peo­ple dri­ving mer­cedes cut­ting peo­ple off, refus­ing to use indi­ca­tors.. and why is it that rich peo­ple fre­quent­ly do things that are real­ly cru­el to ani­mals like get involved in shoot­ing for “sport” and eat­ing foie gras and veal? Pathet­ic

  • Jennifer Marie says:

    There is DEFINITELY a wealth gap in Aus­tralia. I can’t relate to most wealthy peo­ple. I have yet to meet a very wealthy per­son who was also down to earth and cared about the things I care about (envi­ron­ment, ani­mal wel­fare, spir­i­tu­al­i­ty etc). They ask me “oh did you see that show on tv yes­ter­day” talk­ing about their $300 per month fox­tel pack­age, not even real­is­ing that some of us could nev­er afford stu­pid stuff like that.

  • Brad S says:

    At my restau­rant I con­stant­ly deal with wealthy cus­tomers who are very nasty.
    Espeacil­ly the men who come in a group with­out there wives. They yell pro­fan­i­ties, drink way too much and gen­er­al­ly act like pigs. I know they feel as though there mon­ey pro­tects them some­how. They act like every­one else should bow to them regard­less of how they act. If you took there mon­ey away, how­ev­er, and put them in a harsh envi­ron­ment to fend for them­selves there true weak­ness would be glar­ing. Wealth has made them depen­dent on wealth. They are tru­ly weak because they believe mon­ey makes you strong. And this inher­ent­ly makes them shal­low and inse­cure. Forc­ing them to show off and over­com­pen­sate there inse­cu­ri­ties.

  • Mick Russom says:

    Yes. And the worst rich jerks are the Lib­er­als and scum like Oba­ma, the ene­my of faith, free­dom, fam­i­ly and lib­er­ty, who mas­quer­ade as car­ing but are the worst rich jerks pos­si­ble.

  • mike says:

    i work in a casi­no, i thi k this is an awe­ful stereo­type. as far as this so called study, it comes from a uni­ver­si­ty that has elit­ist snobs for fac­ul­ty. i see rich peo­ple every day and as with every oth­er social class, their are good and bad.The insin­u­a­tion that rich peo­ple are more inclined to be “ass holes” seems very nar­row mind­ed and is dri­ven by a philo­soph­i­cal angen­da rather than pure sci­ence.

  • Justin Time says:

    bunk in bunk out

    the bet­ter the ques­tion the bet­ter the sci­ence

    Giv­en that mate­ri­al­ism is the soup we All swim in…
    A bet­ter ques­tion might be:
    Why do cer­tain indi­vid­u­als on the road to fab­u­lous wealth become so freakin un-hip?
    Do these indi­vid­u­als need us(the smart shop­pers) help to become hip again or new­ly hip?

  • Mabuse says:

    It’s sol­id. I’ve seen it creep­ing up on me year by year.
    Let me explain…

    I live in this lit­tle sub­urb called Old Tap­pan in North­ern NJ. Lived here all my life. It’s only been with­in the past 20 years how­ev­er that the town’s slow­ly trans­formed from friend­ly work­ing class to pre­ten­tious dickville. Good neigh­bors slow­ly moved out, fam­i­ly by fam­i­ly over the years–to be replaced by elit­ist snobs who tore down their mod­er­ate homes and built mcman­sions. The 21st cen­tu­ry showed an unprece­dent­ed rise of these through­out my town; each one seem­ing­ly larg­er and more out­landish­ly gaudy than the pre­vi­ous ones. Today they’re not con­tent with mcman­sions but are build­ing mccas­tles… But I digress: the Peo­ple who live in them are sus­pi­cious, para­noid, and pret­ty much fear­ful of lit­tle old me in my decades-old mod­er­ate lit­tle home. They dump their garbage on my yard as they pass. They phone one anoth­er if I so much as take a walk around the perime­ter on foot (like I’m going to rob my own neigh­bors or some­thing, right? I’ve lived here half a cen­tu­ry and haven’t loot­ed any­one yet, should I start with the new palaces?). I was even report­ed to the police by one who accused me of “tres­pass­ing” because I walked too near his estate! Each palace is loaded with more and more gaudy crap as they play the keep­ing up with the Jons­es game amongst one anoth­er; each try­ing to out­do the oth­er in terms of yard lights, paving stones, you-name it. I don’t par­tic­i­pate in their game with my bare-bones min­i­mal­ist home–they see me as an Infe­ri­or and some­one to be Watched.
    I think I’m the only guy who keeps his two old cars Garaged. The neigh­bors have like 3 to 6 garages and they’re all Emp­ty. They keep their lux­u­ry vehi­cles very vis­i­ble parked atop their pol­ished paving stone dri­ve­ways, in front of their palaces, so every­one can not only see them but count them.
    They prob­a­bly think I can’t afford a car because of this attribute!

  • The Honest Truth says:

    Well i con­sid­er rich peo­ple total Ass­holes alto­geth­er since they like to real­ly Brag a lot.

  • Raiders75 says:

    The worst ones are the lais­sez-faire Repub­li­can Con­ser­v­a­tives that want to dic­tate their reli­gion and take every­thing away from the work­ing class and give it to the rich and dis­guise it as sav­ing mon­ey or not giv­ing hand­outs. The biggest hyp­ocrites are the Chris­t­ian right wing con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­cans!!! They should have the right to wor­ship any god they wish, but don’t impose it on oth­er peo­ple or go against what your god says by mak­ing the poor poor­er and act­ing unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic by only serv­ing the wealth­i­est in soci­ety and tak­ing away from every­one else! I have no respect for any of those peo­ple or their fol­low­ers!!!

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