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The Abundance Effect: Unethical Behavior in the Presence of Wealth

54 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2008 Last revised: 21 Aug 2008

Francesca Gino

Harvard Business School

Lamar Pierce

Washington University, Saint Louis - John M. Olin School of Business

Date Written: August 20, 2008

Abstract

Three laboratory studies investigate the hypothesis that the presence of wealth may influence people's propensity to engage in unethical behavior. In the experiments, participants are given the opportunity to cheat by overstating their performance or by stealing money. In each study, one group is stimulated by the visible proximity of wealth. We find that the presence of abundant wealth leads to more frequent cheating than an environment of scarcity. Our third experiment also investigates the potential mechanisms behind this effect. Our results show that feelings of envy towards wealthy others lead to unethical behavior. Our findings offer insights into when and why people engage in unethical behavior.

Keywords: unethical behavior, envy, money, wealth, stealing

Suggested Citation

Gino, Francesca and Pierce, Lamar, The Abundance Effect: Unethical Behavior in the Presence of Wealth (August 20, 2008). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1157085 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1157085

Francesca Gino

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Lamar Pierce (Contact Author)

Washington University, Saint Louis - John M. Olin School of Business ( email )

One Brookings Drive
Campus Box 1133
St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
United States
314-935-5205 (Phone)

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