Nouveau Riche More Likely to Lie, Cheat and Steal
Some newly-rich people have unshakable integrity.
But they may be the exception, rather than the rule.
“Are society’s most noble actors found within society’s nobility?”
That question spurred Paul Piff, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, to explore whether higher social class is linked to higher ideals, he said in a telephone interview.
The answer Piff found after conducting seven different experiments is: no. The pursuit of self-interest is a “fundamental motive among society’s elite, and the increased want associated with greater wealth and status can promote wrongdoing,” Piff and his colleagues wrote yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The “upper class,” as defined by the study, were more likely to break the law while driving, take candy from children, lie in negotiation, cheat to increase their odds of winning a prize and endorse unethical behavior at work, the research found. The solution, Piff said, is to find a way to increase empathy among wealthier people.
“It’s not that the rich are innately bad, but as you rise in the ranks — whether as a person or a nonhuman primate — you become more self-focused,” Piff said. “You can change that by reminding upper-class people of the needs of others. That may not be their default, but have them do it is sufficient to increase their patterns of altruistic behavior.”
That theory will be the basis of his next study. Piff is curious to know how to change patterns of greed and selfishness when they emerge.
Previous research has shown that students who take economics classes are more likely to describe greed as good. Pairing ethics courses with economics may be beneficial, Piff said.
In the research reported yesterday, the experiments suggest at least some wealthier people “perceive greed as positive and beneficial,” probably as a result of education, personal independence and the resources they have to deal with potentially negative consequences, the authors wrote.
One experiment invited 195 adults recruited using Craigslistto play a game in which a computer “rolled dice” for a chance to win a $50 gift certificate. The numbers each participant rolled were the same; anyone self-reporting a total higher than 12 was lying about their score. Those in wealthier groups were found to be more likely to fib, Piff said.
Poorer participants may be less likely to cheat because they must rely more on their community to get by, and thus are more likely adhere to community standards, Piff said. By comparison, “upper-class individuals are more self-focused, they privilege themselves over others, and they engage in self-interested patterns of behavior,” he said.
In the traffic tests, about one-third of drivers in higher-status cars cut off other drivers at an intersection watched by the researchers, about double those in less costly cars. Additionally, almost half of the more expensive cars didn’t yield when a pedestrian entered the crosswalk while all of the lowest-status cars let the pedestrian cross. These experiments involved 426 vehicles.
Another test asked 108 adults found through Amazon.com Inc.’s (AMZN) work-recruiting website Mechanical Turk to assume the role of an employer negotiating a salary with someone seeking long-term employment. They were told several things about the job, including that it would soon be eliminated. Upper-class individuals were more likely not to mention to the job-seeker the temporary nature of the position, the research found.
“Support for free-market capitalism will collapse if those who do well don’t do good,” said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. “Rapacious, intolerant, nonempathetic capitalism that says lie, cheat, steal, it’s only the bottom line that matters — aside from being morally repugnant, it’s got a dim future.”
“Greed has been on the upswing for 20 years,” [Erik Gordon, a business professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor] said in a telephone interview. “Wealth or power that comes with high socioeconomic status means you are indeed enabled to ignore other people and might think that rules that apply to other people don’t apply to you.”
But, as Bloomberg notes, it is greed – not wealth per se – which causes the lying, cheating and stealing:
Gordon, though, thinks the research has its limits. It isn’t as much about wealth, he said, as it is about greed, a behavior that can be changed.
The very wealthy, who “tend to drive 8-year-old cars” and “don’t wear logos,” may offer a very different profile, he said, suggesting that the group targeted by Piff’s experiments with cars are more likely the “nouveau riche.”
Similarly, Business Insider reports:
The March/April issue of the CFA Magazine has a fascinating article titled “The Financial Psychopath Next Door.”
A shocking statistic jumped out at us. From the article:
Studies conducted by Canadian forensic psychologist Robert Hare indicate that about 1 percent of the general population can be categorized as psychopathic, but the prevalence rate in the financial services industry is 10 percent. And Christopher Bayer believes, based on his experience, that the rate is higher.
Bayer is a well-known psychologist who provides therapy to Wall Street traders.
The type of psychopath the author is writing about is characterized by compulsive gambling. And the Wall Street psychopath doesn’t necessarily show up to his or her first day of work in this condition. From the article:
Taken to the extreme, some traders become compulsive gamblers. The behavior is often latent–neither they nor anyone else knows they have this propensity. They hide small losses and keep doubling their position to try to eliminate them. When those trades turn sour, they dig themselves into a deeper hole and deny ay wrongdoing or failure. They rationalize by telling themselves that poor investment decisions are an occupational hazard. They lie to family members or others to conceal the extent of their involvement with gambling and commit forgery, fraud, theft, and embezzlement to support their habit.
A little more color on these particular types of psychopaths:
These “financial psychopaths” generally lack empathy and interest in what other people feel or think. At the same time, they display an abundance of charm, charisma, intelligence, credentials, an unparalleled capacity for lying, fabrication, adn manipulation, and a drive for thrill seeking.
A financial psychopath can present as a perfect well-rounded job candidate, CEO, manager, co-worker, and team member because their destructive characteristics are practically invisible. They flourish in fast-paced industries and are experts in taking advantage of company systems and processes as well as exploiting communication weaknesses and promoting interpersonal conflicts.
Unfortunately–writes the author–the best candidates for many Wall Street jobs exhibit the traits of a financial psychopath.
Indeed, as we’ve extensively documented, psychopaths caused the financial crisis … and they will do it again and again unless they are removed from power.