• Why rich parents are more likely to be unethical
    The Conversation

    Why rich parents are more likely to be unethical

    William 'Rick' Singer founder of the Edge College & Career Network, pleaded guilty to charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. AP Photo/Steven SenneFederal attorneys in 2019 arrested 50 people in a college admission scam that allowed wealthy parents to buy their kids’ admission to elite universities. Prosecutors found that parents together paid up to US.5 million to get their kids into college. The list included celebrity parents such as actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. Some might ask why did these parents fail to consider the moral implications of their actions? My 20 years of research in moral psychology suggests many reasons why people behave in an unethical manner. When it comes to the wealthy, research shows that they will go to great lengths to maintain their higher status. A sense of entitlement plays a role. How people rationalize Let’s first consider what allows people to act unethically and yet not feel guilt or remorse. Research shows that people are good at rationalizing unethical actions that serve their self-interest. The success, or failure, of one’s children often has implications for how parents view themselves and are viewed by others. They are more likely to bask in the reflected glory of their children. They seem to gain esteem based on their connection to successful children. This means parents can be motivated by self-interest to ensure their children’s achievement. In the case of cheating for their children, parents can justify the behavior through comparisons that help them morally disengage with an action. For example, they could say that other parents’ do a lot worse things, or minimize the consequences of their actions through words such as, “My behavior did not cause much harm.” Viewing the unethical outcomes as serving others, including one’s children, could help parents create a psychological distance to rationalize misconduct. Several studies demonstrate that people are more likely to be unethical when their actions also help someone else. For example, it is easier for employees to accept a bribe when they plan to share the proceeds with coworkers. Sense of entitlement When it comes to the wealthy and privileged, a sense of entitlement, or a belief that one is deserving of privileges over others, can play an important role in unethical conduct. Being wealthy and privileged can lead to a sense of entitlement. Bryan Fernandez/Flickr.com, CC BY-NC-ND Privileged individuals are also less likely to follow rules and instructions given they believe the rules are unjust. Because they feel deserving of more than their fair share, they are willing to violate norms of appropriate and socially agreed upon conduct. Feeling a sense of entitlement also leads people to be more competitive, selfish and aggressive when they sense a threat. For example, white males are less likely to support affirmative action to even the playing field because it threatens their privileged status. Research suggests that entitlement may come in part from being rich. Wealthy individuals who are considered as “upper class” based on their income have been found to lie, steal and cheat more to get what they desire. They have also been found to be less generous. They are more likely to break the law when driving, give less help to strangers in need, and generally give others less attention. Additionally, growing up with wealth is associated with more narcissistic behavior, which results in selfishness, expressing a need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. Consequences of status loss Individuals who think they deserve unfair advantages are more likely to take actions to increase their level of status, such as ensuring their children attend high-status universities. Losing status appears to be particularly threatening for high-status individuals. Wealthy parents can fear they are losing status if their children do not attend top colleges. michaeljung/Shutterstock.com A recent review of the research on status demonstrates that status loss, or even a fear of status loss, has been associated with an increase in suicide attempts. Individuals have been reported to show physiological changes such as higher blood pressure and pulse. Such individuals also made increased efforts to avoid status loss by being willing to pay money and allocating resources to themselves. In their book “The Coddling of the American Mind,” First Amendment expert Greg Lukianoff and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt make the case that parents, especially in the upper class, are increasingly anxious about their children attending top universities. These authors argue that given economic prospects are less certain because of stagnating wages, automation and globalization, wealthier parents tend to be particularly concerned about the future economic opportunities for their children. Feeling invulnerable People who feel a sense of power, which often comes along with wealth and fame, tend to be less likely to believe they are vulnerable to the detrimental consequences of unethical behavior. Experiencing a psychological sense of power leads to a false feeling of control. It could also lead to increased risk-taking and a decrease in concern for others. It is possible that some of these moral psychology reasons were behind these wealthy parents cheating on behalf of their children. A desire to go to great lengths to help one’s child is admirable. However, when those lengths cross ethical boundaries it is a step too far.This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. Read more:Colleges confront their links to slavery and wrestle with how to atone for past sinsWhy elite colleges should use a lottery to admit studentsCollege admission scandal grew out of a system that was ripe for corruption David M. Mayer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

  • How to distinguish a psychopath from a 'shy-chopath'
    The Conversation

    How to distinguish a psychopath from a 'shy-chopath'

    Ted Bundy, a day before his execution in January 1989. AP Photo/Mark FoleyWhat makes a criminal a psychopath? Their grisly deeds and commanding presence attract our attention – look no further than murderer Ted Bundy and cult leader Charles Manson. But despite years of theorizing and research, the mental health field continues to hotly debate what are the defining features of this diagnosis. It might come as a surprise that the most widely used psychiatric diagnostic system in the U.S., the DSM-5, doesn’t include psychopathy as a formal disorder. As a personality researcher and forensic psychologist, I’ve spent the last quarter-century studying psychopaths inside and outside of prisons. I’ve also debated what, exactly, are the defining features of psychopathy. Most agree that psychopaths are remorseless people who lack empathy for others. But in recent years, much of this debate has centered on the relevance of one particular personality trait: boldness. I’m in the camp that believes boldness is critical to separating out psychopaths from the more mundane law-breakers. It’s the trait that creates the veneer of normalcy, giving those who prey on others the mask to successfully blend in with the rest of society. To lack boldness, on the other hand, is to be what one might call a “shy-chopath.” The boldness factor About 10 years ago, psychologist Christopher Patrick and some of his colleagues published an extensive literature review in which they argued that psychopaths were people who expressed elevated levels of three basic traits: meanness, disinhibition and boldness. Most experts in the mental health field generally agree that the prototypical psychopath is someone who is both mean and, at least to some extent, disinhibited – though there’s even some debate about exactly how impulsive and hot-headed the prototypical psychopath truly is. In a psychological context, people who are mean tend to lack empathy and have little interest in close emotional relationships. They’re also happy to use and exploit others for their own personal gain. Highly disinhibited people have very poor impulse control, are prone to boredom and have difficulty managing emotions – particularly negative ones, like frustration and hostility. In adding boldness to the mix, Patrick and his colleagues argued that genuine psychopaths are not just mean and disinhibited, they’re also individuals who are poised, fearless, emotionally resilient and socially dominant. Although it had not been the focus of extensive research for the past few decades, the concept of the bold psychopath isn’t actually new. Famed psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley described it in his seminal 1941 book, “The Mask of Sanity,” in which he described numerous case examples of psychopaths who were brazen, fearless and emotionally unflappable. Ted Bundy is an excellent example of such a person. He was far from unassuming and timid. He never appeared wracked with anxiety or emotional distress. He charmed scores of victims, confidently served as his own attorney and even proposed to his girlfriend while in court. “It’s probably just being willing to take risk,” Bundy said, in the Netflix documentary, of what motivated his crimes. “Or perhaps not even seeing risk. Just overcome by that boldness and desire to accomplish a particular thing.” Seeds planted in the DSM In the current DSM, the closest current diagnosis to psychopathy is antisocial personality disorder. Although the manual suggests that it historically has been referred to as psychopathy, the current seven diagnostic criteria for antisocial personality disorder mostly fall under the umbrella of disinhibition – qualities like “recklessness,” “impulsiveness” and, to a lesser extent, meanness, which are evident in only two criteria: “lack of remorse” and “deceitfulness.” There’s no mention of boldness. In other words, you don’t have to be bold to have antisocial personality disorder. In fact, because you only need to meet three of the seven criteria to be diagnosed with the disorder, it means you don’t even need to be all that mean, either. However, the most recent revision to the DSM, the fifth edition, did include a supplemental section for proposed diagnoses in need of further study. In this supplemental section, a new specifier was offered for those who meet the diagnosis for antisocial personality disorder. If you have a bold and fearless interpersonal style that seems to serve as a mask for your otherwise mean and disinhibited personality, you might also be diagnosable as a psychopath. Can a psychopath be meek? Whether this new model, which seems to put boldness center stage in the diagnosis of psychopathy, ultimately will be adopted into subsequent iterations of the DSM system remains to be seen. Several researchers have criticized the concept. They see meanness and disinhibition as much more important than boldness when deciding whether someone is a psychopath. Their main issue seems to be that people who are bold – but not mean or disinhibited – actually seem to be well-adjusted and not particularly violent. In fact, compared with being overly introverted or prone to emotional distress, it seems to be an asset in everyday life. Other researchers, myself included, tend to view those criticisms as not particularly compelling. In our view, someone who is simply disinhibited and mean – but not bold – would not be able to pull off the spectacular level of manipulation that a psychopath is capable of. To be sure, being mean and disinhibited is a bad combination. But absent boldness, you’re probably not going to show up on the evening news for having schemed scores of investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars. The chances that you’ll successfully charm unsuspecting victim after unsuspecting victim into coming back to your apartment to sexually assault them seem pretty slim. That being said, timid but mean people – the “shycho-paths” – almost certainly do exist, and it’s probably best to stay away from them, too. But you’re unlikely to confuse them with the Ted Bundys and Charles Mansons of the world.This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. Read more:This trait could be key to a lasting romanceNot all psychopaths are criminals – some psychopathic traits are actually linked to successHow evolutionary psychology may explain the difference between male and female serial killers John Edens has received funding from the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct research on individuals in criminal justice and forensic settings.