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Who Cheats More: The Lower Classes or the Upper Classes?

The upper class has a higher propensity for unethical behavior, being more likely to believe that “greed is good,” according to a new study.

In seven separate studies, researchers consistently found that upper-class participants were more likely than less well-off people 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. “Although greed may indeed be a motivation all people have felt at points in their lives, we argue that greed motives are not equally prevalent across all social strata. As our findings suggest, the pursuit of self-interest is a more fundamental motive among society’s elite, and the increased want associated with greater wealth and status can promote wrongdoing.”

The study is the latest in a series of UC Berkeley scholarly investigations into the relationship between socioeconomic 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. 

In an interesting twist, about a third of Prius drivers broke crosswalk laws, putting the hybrid among the highest “unethical driving” car brands. “This is a good demonstration of the ‘moral licensing’ phenomenon, in which hybrid-car drivers who believe they’re saving the Earth may feel entitled to behave unethically in other ways,” said Piff. (The Prius results were observed but not analyzed for statistical significance in the study.)

Another study found that upper-class participants presented with scenarios of unscrupulous behavior were more likely than the individuals in the other socioeconomic 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, each participant was 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. Even 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.

“Our findings suggest,” Piff said, “that if the pursuit of self-interest goes unchecked, it may result in a vicious cycle: self-interest leads people to behave unethically, which raises their status, which leads to more unethical behavior and inequality.”

 Published Feb. 27 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Source of Hybrid reference. Source of quote on prevalence of greed across all social strata

Ubiquity of Mental Illness Diagnoses May Be Desensitizing the Public

According to a new study, as definitions of mental illnesses become broader, people who show signs of depression and other common mental illnesses are less likely to evoke a supportive response from friends and family members compared with the reaction to people with severe mental disorders. 

Sociologist Brea L. Perry, PhD, studied interviews conducted with 165 individuals with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression, and other less severe disorders who were undergoing mental health treatment for the first time. She found that those with more socially accepted and commonplace mental illnesses, such as depression and mild mood disorders, did not receive strong reactions to their conditions from family members, friends, or others with whom they came in contact. Perry stated that as a result, their support networks may be less willing to take on caregiver responsibilities or to excuse them when their behavior deviates from what is considered normal.

While commonplace mental illnesses such as depression are clearly defined by professionals as legitimate medical conditions, Perry found that the public does not always deem them as justifiable for taking on a “sick” role.

The reaction is a concern, Perry noted, because, “Day-to-day emotional and instrumental support is likely to play a critical role in recovery from mental illness.”

This study also found that diagnosing someone with a severe mental illness that is more outwardly recognizable—such as schizophrenia and the manic phase of bipolar disorder—can lead to a higher amount of rejection and discrimination by acquaintances and strangers while at the same time creating a stronger social support system among close friends and family.

These findings suggest that being formally labeled with a men-tal illness may present a paradox, simultaneously initiating beneficial social processes within core networks and detrimental ones among peripheral ties.

Source: Posted April 9, 2012, by Stone Hearth News from “The Labeling Paradox: Stigma, the Sick Role, and Social Networks in Mental Illness” from the Journal of Health & Social Behavior, a quarterly, medical sociology journal. The full article is available free for a limited time.

Public Less Willing to Pay to Avoid Mental Illnesses Than Physical Ones

By Dylan M. Smith, PhD
Lead Author and Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine, 
Stony Brook University School of Medicine

An analysis of a nationally representative sample of 710 adult respondents reveals that the public is less willing to pay to avoid mental illnesses compared to paying for treatment of medical conditions. The study also found that participants recognized mental illnesses as burdensome, in fact more burdensome than some general medical illnesses, yet were willing to pay 40 percent less than what they would pay to avoid medical illnesses. 

Study respondents were recruited from an Internet panel managed by Knowledge Networks, a U.S. survey research firm that maintains a panel of more than 60,000 households that are a representative sample of adults age 21 and over. The respondents were presented with five health conditions. These included three medical illnesses or conditions (diabetes, below-the-knee amputation, and partial blindness), and two mental illnesses (depression and schizophrenia). Participants rated each health condition for severity and level of burden in relation to quality of life. Then they indicated how much they would pay, out of pocket, to avoid the condition.

Our results showed that participants understood that mental illness clearly has a very negative impact on quality of life, yet were significantly not as willing to pay for effective treatments for these illnesses. 

The findings mirror the general pattern of healthcare spending, with less resources going to treat mental illnesses than might be expected given the overall level of burden they impose on society. World Health Organization statistics indicate mental illnesses account for 15.4 percent of the total burden caused by all disease in industrialized countries, yet mental illnesses account for only 6.2 percent of U.S. health care expenditures.

“All else equal, the general public doesn’t think it is as valuable to treat mental illness as other types of illness,” says senior author Peter Ubel, MD, of Duke University. “There is a fundamental disconnect between how bad they think it would be to experience depression and their willingness to spend money to rid themselves of the illness.”

Respondents generally considered the medical illnesses or conditions as less severe in comparison to the mental illnesses. Yet, when respondents were asked to rate the “burdensomeness” of each condition, schizophrenia received the highest mean burden score, but it did not have the highest willingness-to-pay value. Similarly, despite a relatively high “burdensome-ness” rating, depression received the lowest median willingness-to-pay value.

The results suggest that efforts to eliminate the gap between mental health conditions and general health conditions will likely require targeting specific beliefs that people have about mental illnesses and the value of treatments for mental illness.

Public attitudes influence how much payers for health care are willing to spend to treat mental illness and how likely federal agencies are to invest in research on mental illness.”

A priority for additional investigation should be to explore the deeper underlying attitudes that reduce people’s willingness to spend money to avoid mental illness.

Source: The research results are reported in the article, “What’s it Worth? Public Willingness to Pay to Avoid Mental Illnesses Compared with General Medical Illnesses,” published in the April 2012 issue of Psychiatric Services.

Hiding Emotions May Exacerbate Depression Among Black Men Who Confront Racial Discrimination

Enduring subtle, insidious acts of racial discrimination is enough to depress anyone, but African-American men who believe they should respond to stress with stoicism and emotional control experience more depression symptoms, according to new findings.

The focus of the research was the phenomenon researchers call everyday racism, which is marked not so much by magnitude or how egregious the prejudice and torment were, but by persistence and subtlety.

“It chips away at people’s sense of humanity and very likely at their hope and optimism,” said study author Wizdom Powell Hammond, PhD, assistant professor of health behavior in the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. “We know these daily hassles have consequences for men’s mental health, but we don’t know why some men experience depression while others do not.”

Hammond studied data collected from surveys of 674 African-American men, ages 18 and older, carried out at barber shops in four U.S. regions between 2003 and 2010.

She found that everyday racial discrimination was associated with depression across all age groups. Younger men (under age 40) were more depressed, experienced more discrimination, and had a stronger allegiance to norms encouraging them to restrict their emotions than men older than 40. Furthermore, some men who embraced norms encouraging more self-reliance reported less depression.

The results showed associations, not necessarily causation, Hammond noted.

The data also showed that when men felt strongly about the need to shut down their emotions, the negative effect of discrimination on their mental health was amplified. The association was particularly apparent for men 30 and older.

“It seems as though there may be a cumulative burden or long-term consequences of suffering such persistent discriminatory slights and hassles in silence,” Hammond said. “Our next task is to determine when embracing traditional role norms are harmful or helpful to African-American men’s mental health.”

The information will help target future interventions to subgroups of men, rather than try to reach all men with one general approach.

Source: The study, “Taking It Like a Man: Masculine Role Norms as Moderators of the Racial Discrimination-Depressive Symptoms Association Among African-American Men,” was published online March 8 in theAmerican Journal of Public Health. The study is available online.