The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘wealth’

The Situational Effects of Wealth and Status

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 6, 2012

From University of California Berkeley:

The upper class has a higher propensity for unethical behavior, being more likely to believe – as did Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street” – that “greed is good,” according to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley.

In seven separate studies conducted on the UC Berkeley campus, in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationwide, UC Berkeley researchers consistently found that upper-class participants were more likely to lie and cheat when gambling or negotiating; cut people off when driving, and endorse unethical behavior in the workplace.

“The increased unethical tendencies of upper-class individuals are driven, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed,” said Paul Piff, a doctoral student in psychology at UC Berkeley and lead author of the paper published today (Monday, Feb. 27) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Piff’s study is the latest in a series of UC Berkeley scholarly investigations into the relationship between socio-economic class and prosocial and antisocial emotions and behaviors, revealing new information about class differences during a time of rising economic tension.

“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,” Piff said.

To investigate how class relates to ethical conduct, the researchers surveyed the ethical tendencies of more than 1,000 individuals of lower-, middle- and upper-class backgrounds. Volunteers reported their social class using the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Socioeconomic Status and filled out surveys revealing their attitudes about unprincipled behaviors and greed. They also took part in tasks designed to measure their actual unethical behavior.

In two field studies on driving behavior, upper-class motorists were found to be four times more likely than the other drivers to cut off other vehicles at a busy four-way intersection and three times more likely to cut off a pedestrian waiting to enter a crosswalk. Another study found that upper-class participants presented with scenarios of unscrupulous behavior were more likely than the individuals in the other socio-economic classes to report replicating this type of behavior themselves.

Participants in the fourth study were assigned tasks in a laboratory where a jar of candy, reserved for visiting children, was on hand, and were invited to take a candy or two. Upper-class participants helped themselves to twice as much candy as did their counterparts in other classes.

In the fifth study, participants each were assigned the role of an employer negotiating a salary with a job candidate seeking long-term employment. Among other things, they were told that the job would soon be eliminated, and that they were free to convey that information to the candidate. Upper-class participants were more likely to deceive job candidates by withholding this information, the study found.

In the sixth study, participants played a computerized dice game, with each player getting five rolls of the dice and then reporting his or her scores. The player with the highest score would receive a cash prize. The players did not know that the game was rigged so that each player would receive no more than 12 points for the five rolls. Upper-class participants were more likely to report higher scores than would be possible, indicating a higher rate of cheating, according to the study.

The last study found attitudes about greed to be the most significant predictor of unethical behavior. Participants were primed to think about the advantages of greed and then presented with bad behavior-in-the-workplace scenarios, such as stealing cash, accepting bribes and overcharging customers. It turned out that even those participants not in the upper class were just as likely to report a willingness to engage in unethical behavior as the upper-class cohort once they had been primed to see the benefits of greed, researchers said.

“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,” Piff said of the cumulative findings.

Paper: “High social class predicts increased unethical behavior,” by Paul K. Piff, Daniel M. Stancato, Stéphane Côté, Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, and Dacher Keltner, PNAS (2012). (link)

NPR Marketplace Story on Paper.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Altruism, Distribution, Embodied Cognition, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Financial Situation of Empathy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 24, 2011

From UC Berkeley News Center:

Emotional differences between the rich and poor, as depicted in such Charles Dickens classics as “A Christmas Carol” and “A Tale of Two Cities,” may have a scientific basis. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have found that people in the lower socio-economic classes are more physiologically attuned to suffering, and quicker to express compassion than their more affluent counterparts.

By comparison, the UC Berkeley study found that individuals in the upper middle and upper classes were less able to detect and respond to the distress signals of others. Overall, the results indicate that socio-economic status correlates with the level of empathy and compassion that people show in the face of emotionally charged situations.

“It’s not that the upper classes are coldhearted,” said UC Berkeley social psychologist Jennifer Stellar, lead author of the study published online on Dec. 12 in the journal, Emotion. “They may just not be as adept at recognizing the cues and signals of suffering because they haven’t had to deal with as many obstacles in their lives.”

Stellar and her colleagues’ findings challenge previous studies that have characterized lower-class people as being more prone to anxiety and hostility in the face of adversity.

“These latest results indicate that there’s a culture of compassion and cooperation among lower-class individuals that may be born out of threats to their wellbeing,” Stellar said.

It has not escaped the researchers’ attention that the findings come at a time of rising class tension, expressed in the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Rather than widen the class divide, Stellar said she would like to see the findings promote understanding of different class cultures. For example, the findings suggest that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds may thrive better in cooperative settings than their upper-class counterparts.

“Upper-class individuals appear to be more self-focused, they’ve grown up with more freedom and autonomy,” she said. “They may do better in an individualist, competitive environment.”

More than 300 ethnically diverse young adults were recruited for the UC Berkeley study, which was divided into three experiments that used three separate groups of participants. Because all the volunteers were college undergraduates, their class identification – lower class, lower middle class, middle class, upper middle class or upper class – was based on parental income and education.

In the first experiment, 148 young adults were rated on how frequently and intensely they experience such emotions as joy, contentment, pride, love, compassion, amusement and awe. In addition, they reported how much they agreed with such statements as “When I see someone hurt or in need, I feel a powerful urge to take care of them,” and “I often notice people who need help.” Compassion was the only positive emotion reported at greater levels by lower-class participants, the study found.

In the second experiment, a new group of 64 participants viewed two videos: an instructional video on construction and an emotionally charged video about families who are coping with the challenges of having a child with cancer. Participants showed no differences while watching the “neutral” instructional video, and all reported feeling sad in response to the video about families of cancer patients. However, members of the lower class reported higher levels of compassion and empathy as distinct from sorrow.

The researchers also monitored the heart rates of participants as they watched the neutral and emotionally charged videos. Lower-class participants showed greater decreases in heart rate as they watched the cancer family video than upper-class participants.

“One might assume that watching someone suffering would cause stress and raise the heart rate,” Stellar said. “But we have found that, during compassion, the heart rate lowers as if the body is calming itself to take care of another person.”

Finally, a new set of 106 participants was randomly divided into pairs and pitted against one another in mock interviews for a lab manager position. To further raise the stress level in interviews, those who performed best were to win a cash prize. Post-interview reports from the participants showed that the lower-class interviewees perceived their rivals to be feeling greater amounts of stress, anxiety and embarrassment and as a result reported more compassion and sympathy for their competitors. Conversely, upper-class participants were less able to detect emotional distress signals in their rivals.

“Recognizing suffering is the first step to responding compassionately. The results suggest that it’s not that upper classes don’t care, it’s that they just aren’t as good at perceiving stress or anxiety,” Stellar said.

More.

Related Situationst posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Altruism, Distribution, Emotions, Social Psychology, System Legitimacy | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Distributional Situation of Obesity

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 18, 2009

doughnutWilliam Underhill had a nice summary of recent research on one of the situational causes of obesity: inequality.  Here are some excerpts.

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What makes Americans so fat? Don’t blame the doughnuts. That extra heft could be symptomatic of a malaise prevalent in all the world’s least equal societies. According to “The Spirit Level,” a new book by British academics Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, a slew of social woes—from drug abuse to obesity and mental illness—can be tied directly to the width of a nation’s income gap.

The evidence for the link is compelling. Obesity is six times more common in America, where the wealth gap is among the highest in the developed world, than in Japan at the opposite end of the inequality scale. And teenage birthrates in Britain are at least five times higher than in the more egalitarian Netherlands.

The explanation lies in a highly evolved reaction to low status, which shows itself in misery, violence or poor self-esteem. Weight, in particular, has long been a marker of socio-economic clout, and there’s an unusually close match between obesity in women and their society’s wealth gap. But it’s not only the poor who suffer in unequal societies; higher incidences of mental illness, for example, affect all classes.

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The entire (brief) article is here. For a few related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Body Image,”Prejudice Against the Obese and Some of its Situational Sources,” and “Fitting in and Sizing up.”

Posted in Distribution, Emotions | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

A Situationist Considers the Implications of Simpson Sentencing

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 18, 2008

O.J. SimpsonSam Sommers continues to write super situationist posts over on the Psychology Today blog.  Here are excerpts from his recent post, titled “Whither O.J.?,” offering his reflections on reactions to the O.J. Simpson trials.

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Today’s the day that O.J. Simpson finds out his prison sentence for his recent convictions for kidnapping, armed robbery, and assault. In many respects, it will be the final chapter in a sociolegal drama that has been going on for close to 15 years now, dating back to his criminal trial for the murders of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman.

There is many a question this saga might inspire in the curious behavioral scientist: How much of a role did Simpson’s past play in his current treatment by a Nevada jury and sentencing judge? How are those Americans who celebrated Simpson’s acquittal in 1995 reacting to his recent legal problems? . . . And so on.

To me, though, the issue that has always intrigued me the most about the Simpson matter is this: there is no easier way to stir up agitation among White people than to simply utter his name.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to get riled up about when it comes to O.J. I was privy to different and additional information than were the jurors in his trial, but there is little doubt in my mind that he committed the homicides in question. And it’s easy to see how much of the general public would look scornfully upon a man whom they believed to have been the perpetrator of such crimes. Even more so given that he escaped prison time for their commission.

For that matter, even were you to be one who reserves judgment on Simpson’s culpability for the murders (or think that he was flat-out innocent), there’s still ample reason to find him reprehensible. There’s no doubt that he was a perpetrator of domestic assault, and that’s surely sufficient grounds for harboring antipathy towards him.

That said, I’d still argue that the response of much of White America to Simpson has been, and continues to be disproportionate. Yes, I, too, believe that he is a murderer who ultimately got away with his crime. But where’s the comparable outrage at the acquittal of Robert Blake? Or the jury that failed to convict Phil Spector in his first trial?

OK, so the circumstances aren’t identical in any of these cases–they never are when such comparisons are needed (which is why studying issues like legal decision-making using experimental methodology can be so important, but that’s a topic for another entry). But in each case, we’re talking about past-their-prime B-list celebrities who owe a great deal of their continued freedom to the money that allowed them to hire in-their-prime A-list attorneys.

The difference is that Simpson has come to stand for something more. For much of White America, Simpson’s acquittal at the hands of a predominantly-Black jury has come to stand as the prototypical example of “reverse racism” in the modern era. The images of African-Americans celebrating his acquittal serve to epitomize for many Whites all that they believe has gone awry with race relations in this country.

Perceptions of the O.J. trial–or, perhaps more accurately, perceptions of how Black America perceived the trial–even bubbled to the surface as a litmus test for some White voters during the Democratic primaries in Iowa. Just a few months later, Barack Obama went out of his way to assert his own belief in Simpson’s guilt, and his own displeasure with how many Blacks reacted to the acquittal.

The rest of Obama’s discussion of this matter is similarly revealing. He puts forth a hypothesis that I’ve often offered myself in many a conversation–of varieties both watercooler and academic–concerning the trial: many who celebrated Simpson’s acquittal didn’t necessarily believe that he was innocent. Much of their celebration came from the realization that for many years only rich, White guys were able to climb off the hook for crimes they had committed. Now a rich, Black guy was able to do the same.

Because when you think about it, if you put the media circus aside, Simpson’s acquittal owed far more to his wealth than his race. . . .

Yet there he remains, Public Enemy #1, O. J. Simpson. Worthy of our denunciation? Sure. Perpetrator of acts that merit contempt? Absolutely. But how did he ascend so quickly to the top of this mountain of notoriety, climbing over so many miscreants and barbarians to get there? Because he became the symbol of racial discontent for much of White America; he grew to represent something far bigger than the sum of his personality or the specifics of his actions. Ask yourself where the comparable outrage is for the others who have gotten away with murder over the years. Ask yourself why there’s no easier way to get White people seeing red than simply mentioning his name.

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To read his entire post (with links), click here.  For some related Situationist posts, see “The Racial Situation of Criminal Juries and the Consequences,” “The Legal Situation of Race Equality – Abstract,” and “Hoyas, Hos, & Gangstas.”

Posted in Law, Life | Tagged: , , , | 8 Comments »

 
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