Everyone lies, but HOW is based on social class

Lying and Class Level

I went over to Kellogg School of Management’s blog just now because I know they do a whole Super Bowl ad thing each year and I wanted to check out if they had any plans for tomorrow night. I didn’t find anything about that — although I did find about the 19th business school in America to start calling their website “Insights” — but I did come across an interesting article about the context of how (in what situations, and for whom) people lie.

Here’s the basic takeaway: if you’re rich, you probably lie to protect your own interests. If you’re not-as-rich, you probably lie to protect your friends. 

You can read about all the various experiments at the link above, and see who’s involved with it — looks like one Kellogg professor, one Columbia professor, and one former Kellogg grad student turned professor — but here’s the essential quote you need to take away from it all:

“Why does this happen?” Rucker asks. “Those high is social class, by definition, have more wealth and resources. They feel more empowered, and this psychological sense of empowerment leads them down the path of cheating to help themselves. Those who are low in social class do not feel empowered. They feel more communal and more dependent on others, which produces a willingness to help others, even when it involves behaving unethically.”

This is kind of interesting for a number of reasons:

1. It somewhat reaffirms the whole idea of “the rich are out to protect their own skin and their wealth,” which has been a favorite idea of journalists trying to write about inequality for the last decade.

2. In lower-class communities, a lot of times one of the central tenets is “stop snitching” or a strong dislike of snitching, etc. You could argue that attitude comes about because, in the absence of real money, relationships are everything; that’s why people at those levels would lie to protect a friend, and also why “snitching” would be so looked-down-upon.

3. This almost seems to imply that you need relationships to accrue wealth, but once you’ve accrued it, the relationships themselves become less important — and rather, protecting your own standing becomes paramount to that.

Think about this too: there’s a ton of lying in the job search/hiring process world, right? For years, everyone was scared candidates were lying. Now people are scared maybe hiring managers are lying. If you believe the latter, this study makes perfect sense. Hiring managers lie to protect themselves: they have headcount they need to fill, or a boss on their ass about something, or projects they need to assign bodies to. So they lie about the job and the potential trajectory because it benefits them. And in this case, a “hiring manager” is probably closer to the “upper class” side.

It’s interesting to note that, within this study, pretty much everyone regardless of social class could ID the “unethical/bad” behaviors. There was consistent agreement on “That’s bad” vs. “That’s not,” so it’s not like people of a lower social class can’t see when something is problematic — which is often how I think the upper class looks at the lower class, i.e. “They’re misguided and can’t tell right from wrong” — but rather, everyone knows when something is unethical, they just support the behavior for a different reason.

Look, we know everyone lies to some extent. No one is ethically above total reproach. But it is interesting to look at the why and how of the situation a little differently.


Ted Bauer

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