The higher a person’s income, the more he or she is prone to act unethically, according to a new study on the relationship between socioeconomics and ethics.

The study, carried out by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and released in the most recent issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, included seven different experiments of real-world and laboratory settings, from rude drivers to test subjects given a chance to take candy from children.

Said psychologist Paul Piff of the findings:

“Occupying privileged positions in society has this natural psychological effect of insulating you from others. … You’re less likely to perceive the impact your behavior has on others. As a result, at least in this paper, you’re more likely to break the rules.”

I have not yet read the paper, but it is important to note the headline of the Wired article to which I linked above: “Wealth Could Make People Unethical” (emphasis mine). I raise this point because the study (apparently) did not find that people necessarily swing toward unethical behavior when confronted with higher levels of income. That would make sense, since there are plenty of ethical wealthy people. Instead, it seems more likely that people have certain psychological tendencies (ie, toward wanting more money), and their surroundings (ie, insane amounts of wealth, privilege, and insulation) help to draw out or tamp down those tendencies.

What do you think?