Are the Rich Really Different From You and Me?02/27/12
MONDAY, Feb. 27 (HealthDay News) -- If a luxurious-looking car
heads in your direction, you may want to look out. That's the
message of a new observational study that contends that people who
drive expensive cars are more likely to cut off pedestrians and
ignore stop-sign etiquette.
The new research didn't just focus on driving habits, either.
Other lab-based experiments done by the researchers found that
study participants who considered themselves wealthy were more
likely than those less wealthy to have unethical decision-making
tendencies, be dishonest in a negotiation, or skirt the rules to
boost their chances of winning a prize, among other traits, the
study authors claimed.
The traffic experiments didn't prove that the seemingly rich
drivers violated traffic laws because their wealth makes them
selfish. Still, the drivers appeared to be putting themselves
first, ahead of the law and the needs of others, said study lead
author Paul Piff, a graduate psychology student at the University
of California, Berkeley.
"They prioritize themselves," Piff said. "They're less oriented to what other people are doing, and they're seeming to perceive the law as potentially not applicable. It seems the more they have, the more attuned they become to their own wishes and desires."
At issue is how the rich are seemingly different from everyone
else. Researchers have studied this topic, trying to understand how
wealth -- or the lack of it -- affects people's decisions in areas
such as ethical behavior.
Karl Aquino is professor of organizational behavior and human
resources management at the Saunders School of Business at the
University of British Columbia in Canada. He said that "there is
accumulating evidence that says what's most psychologically
beneficial about having wealth is that it gives [people] a greater
sense of control over their environments, which reduces stress and
probably provides a greater sense of certainty about life."
The new study looked at whether wealthy people acted as if their
needs were more important than those of other people.
The researchers conducted several experiments, including two
outside a laboratory. In one, the researchers watched a four-way
intersection with four stop signs to see whether expensive cars,
presumably driven by wealthier people, would be more likely to
ignore the rules and not wait for their turn.
The "highest-status" cars, including certain years of
Mercedes-Benz and BMW models, cut off other drivers 30 percent more
of the time compared to "lowest-status" cars such as the Honda Fit,
Toyota Corolla or older trucks, which broke the rules 7 percent of
the time, Piff said.
Cars that were presumably driven by richer people were also more
likely to cut off pedestrians who were stationed at an intersection
by the researchers.
The trends held up when the researchers adjusted their
statistics so they wouldn't be thrown off by factors such as
whether some cars were more likely to have drivers of a certain
gender or age range.
Were people in expensive cars behaving this way on purpose? "I
don't think it's necessarily that someone is actively thinking that
they want to [cut off] someone else," Piff said. He said it may
have more to do with "unconscious ways of attuning to the world,
more focus on oneself versus a heightened vigilance."
The researchers also conducted several non-driving experiments
in which they asked participants to rank their own social class in
terms of income, education and job status, then to consider various
scenarios that included measures of unethical decision making.
Participants who perceived themselves as wealthier had a greater
tendency to make unethical decisions, the investigators found.
So what might all this mean?
Adam Galinsky, a professor of ethics and decision in management
at Northwestern University, said it seems the wealthy are more
egocentric and more attuned "to one's own desires and needs in the
But which comes first, wealth or egotistical behavior?
"Hard to say," said the University of British Columbia's Aquino. "There is some evidence that qualities of 'jerkiness' can help people become more financially successful, and probably there are some qualities like aggression, ruthlessness and a lack of empathy that contribute to one's ability to accumulate wealth."
"On the other hand," he added, "people's circumstances can change their thinking." So inner jerkiness, like wealth, might not be forever.
The study was published online Feb. 27 in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
For more about
ethics, visit Santa Clara University.
Copyright © 2012
. All rights reserved.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.