Status and Greed

Oh, yes. Those rich, high status Gekko types, taking candy out of the (potential) mouths of babes – literally. The Candy experiment was it that headlined the Back page of my local newspaper, with a nice, filled bowl. Isn’t it nice to hear that it is scientifically proven that the upper class are nasty. (Writing scientifically proven made me shudder. Science is the last word on nothing – as said by blah, and a name of a good blog. Follow it!)
But, the most interesting here, are really experiment 5, 6 and 7. They seem to say it is the Gekko in people that propel them to endorse unethical/slightly less than legal behavior. The Greed, that he claims, is Good.
Study 5 is where it begins. They use Mechanical Turk participants. (important, because this isn’t your usual WEIRD participants). The scenario is negotiation, where they negotiate for an employer. The potential employee wants to have a stable situation. You (the participant) know the position will be eliminated in 6 months. How willing are you to withhold this information, if asked face blank? Measure SES, and then they were asked about their beliefs about greed. Both SES and greed separately predicted lying, but when both were entered, the relationship with SES was not significant. Hmmmm.
In study 6 –participants were recruited via Craiglist and online fora . They played a game of chance. Roll a standard (virtual) die. Higher points, better chance to win a cash prize. Oh, and, BTW, experimenter has no way of double checking this, so we do honor system, right. You count up, and report back, ‘K? Rigged, of course. You can do this with virtual dice. The end result was always 12. They also did a social status measure (I assume this is well validated – somewhere there is a limit to my digging), and their attitude towards greed. Both Class and Greed predicted cheating (reporting more than 12 points, of course). When entered together, Class disappeared. Greed remained. (Yeah yeah yeah, they are good researcher and controlled for your usual suspects of gender and ethnicity and religiosity and age and even politics).
In number 7, they manipulate. Manipulation – in research circumstances – is Good. Manipulation makes you a little bit more confident in what causes what. They manipulate Mechanical Turk workers. They use a priming manipulation. (Yes, Priming is something that appears robust, despite the recent Bargh Brouhaha.) List three good things with Greed. Or list three things about your day. The latter considered neutral (yes yes yes, sometimes the day could be fantastic, or horrific, or even greedy, but, on average…). Then they completed a measure of propensity to behave unethically at work and the SES measure.
And, yes, when you generate your own Gekko justifications, you claim to be more likely to engage in (hypothetical) unethical behavior at work. And, yes, the higher SES the more unethical behavior endorsed. But, what is interesting is the interaction of Gekko prime and SES. When primed with greed, the LOW SES report a rather high propensity for the unethical behavior, much more so than for the high SES. And, this is exactly what the authors predicted. This is the very very interesting part of this study. Not the candy, not the cars (although they do a good lead-up to the last two).

The graph they show for the last study is particularly interesting. Although priming greed makes the endorsement of unethical behavior go up for both low and high SES, it seems to go up way more for those in Low SES. What may be going on here? Clearly getting greed activated – permanently or primed – has an effect. Tyler Cowen suggested an explanation that perhaps people behaved like they thought higher classes behaves, but that does not fit here (although may fit for the Candy example).
David Sloan Wilson’s work on his neighbor looked at how class is associated with neighborliness – that is, altruism, concern for others, cooperation, trust (Peter Turchins “Asabiya”, the euro-socialists “solidarity”), and found a bit of a curvilinear relationship (I’m working from memory here – but it is all described in his Evolution for Everyone and The neighborhood project). There seems to be a curvilinear relationship. The vast middle shows more of these neighborly virtues than either the very rich or the very poor. The explanation may be that in the vast middle, you do have to temper your desired and rely on others and cooperate in order to get the things you want, whereas if you are rich, you can always pay for it, and don’t need to be concerned with others. And, for the very poor, the experience is that trust and cooperation will not yield any benefits.
So, does simply priming greed, remove those restraints they think are put on the lower SES? Are the higher SES simply more used to having certain resources and privileges (because the questions were kind of ambiguous).
I think, perhaps, that the three last rules out Tyler Cowen’s suggestion that people will behave as their stereotype of higher SES (which was a risk for the experiments 4, I think). But, then again, what is the range of SES for those working on Mechanical Turk? There is an effect here, but it needs to be probed further, before one can confidently look down ones nose on those high status people.


About asehelene

... because if I'm in a room with a second person, I want to be reasonably sure I'm the crazier one.
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