- Also more likely to deprive their children of treats
By Fiona Macrae
Last updated at 8:53 AM on 28th February 2012
They may think of themselves as the more respectable and upstanding members of society.
But the wealthy among us are in fact more likely to lie, cheat and break the law than those who have less, a study has found.
When faced with temptations, from not stopping at a pedestrian crossing to depriving a child of sweets, it was the better off who behaved worst, a study found.
The researchers suggested that the rich’s view of the world may be clouded by self-absorption and greed. As a result, they have fewer scruples than those who have less money to burn.
The study came to the conclusion after carrying out a series of experiments examining social class and ethics.
The first two took place in the street, with motorists secretly being observed as they crossed a busy junction and approached pedestrian crossings. The more expensive their car, the wealthier they were assumed to be.
Those in the flashiest cars were four times as likely as those in old bangers to cut up other vehicles by barging their way across the junction, the American journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.
They were also more likely to break Californian law by failing to stop for a pedestrian who was trying to cross the road.
In another study, a group of volunteers played a computer game in which they watched dice being rolled on the screen.
They were told that getting high rolls would increase their odds of winning a cash prize and asked to tot up their total score.
Unknown to them, the game was rigged so the total would always equal 12. The wealthiest were more likely to cheat – even when factors such as age, gender and religion were taken into account.
They were also not above depriving children of treats. When presented with a jar of sweets destined for youngsters helping in a nearby lab and told they could have some, the richest helped themselves the most.
The final experiment suggested greed was the driving force. When poorer volunteers were asked to think of ways greed could be beneficial before taking part in the experiment, they acted just as unethically as the wealthy.
Paul Piff, of the University of California, Berkeley, said more money, freedom and independence could leave the rich feeling less accountable for their actions.
He added: ‘Historical observation lends credence to this idea. For example, the recent economic crisis has been attributed in part to the unethical actions of the wealthy.’
University of Toronto researcher Stephane Cote said the source of someone’s wealth may also be important. ‘Whether those individuals who inherited wealth or obtained it through hard work and creative ideas behave exactly the same is an important question for future research,’ he added.