Rich and Poor Cheat for Different Reasons

In certain circumstances, it's the poor who are more likely to cheat. The difference is that the rich do wrong to help themselves, while the poor do wrong to help others. In several experiments reported in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology… the studies suggest a straightforward sequence: Money leads to the perception that one is higher in the social hierarchy, which in turn leads to a sense of power, which in turn leads to a greater willingness to cheat for selfish reasons.

People with less money (and therefore less power), however, are more communal. They need to rely on each other to get by, and as a result, research shows, they’re more compassionate and empathically accurate. Breaking rules is always risky, but social cohesion is paramount — so you do what it takes to help those around you.

The researchers think their findings could lead to some easy practical applications. If you’re speaking to higher-class individuals, you might want to appeal to their selfishness and warn that cheating will ultimately backfire. But when talking to those with fewer resources, you might be better off noting that their actions could harm those around them.

Matthew Hutson, New York Magazine