Ethics not Dime a Dozen


Once again questioning the ethical integrity of upper-class individuals, UC Berkeley psychologists Dacher Keltner, Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton and Daniel Stancato have proved that those in a position of wealth are greedier than the average citizen.


As a result of seven separate studies conducted at UC Berkeley, the Bay Area, and nationwide, Berkeley researchers found time and time again that upper-class participants were more inclined to cheat and lie when gambling or negotiating, endorse unethical behavior and even cut people off when driving.


Paul Piff, the lead author of the paper published in the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” summarized the propensities of upper-class individuals in an interview.


“The increased unethical tendencies of upper-class individuals are driven, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed,” Piff said.


Even when given the opportunity to choose a more ethical alternative in the studies, the upper-class participants still deviated and chose the unethical pathway. One of the studies gave participants the opportunity to negotiate a salary with a person seeking employment, however, the participants neglected to tell the job candidates vital information that was relevant to the salary in question.


But the unethical behavior is not just left at the business office. These seven studies not only prove that upper-class individuals vary in their socio-economic positions in society from the general public, but also that they have different perceptions of ethical behavior than the general public.


“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,” he said when discussing the results of all of the studies.


And now with the economic crisis in the United States, these studies have even more importance. This study performed by Piff is merely one in a series of research coming out of UC Berkeley to attempt and associate relationships between socio-economic status and emotional components such as ethics. These studies come about as a result of ever-increasing class clashes that stem from growing tension about economic issues.


Bringing together an array of information from a group of studies, the information expressed in this paper shows that in any situation, the perception of greed highly increased the propensity for unethical behavior. And being merely one study in a series, there will undoubtedly be more information to come to help explain this socio-economic class system that we live in and how it drives our behavior.


“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 behavior, and points to certain ways in which these patterns might also be changed,” he said.