(Perceived) Lack of Money Leads to Harsher Moral Judgements

Seems like we can’t go a month around without some politician who ought to have known better spending money that they ought not have. But how do you feel about Duffy and his ilk—are these hanging offences, or should guys like him get a slap on the wrist? Well, one factor in your decision making might be how much money you have yourself—or, how well off you perceive yourself to be.

A study published in Psychological Science found that harsher moral judgements tend to be issued by people who have fewer material recourses (or fewer perceived resources). Researchers first drew this conclusion by analysing the 2009 World Values Survey, which examined data regarding people’s moral judgements, income, and inflation. Researchers found that both lack of material resources and economic inflation were related to harsher moral judgements—and the effect of inflation was stronger for people whose income was well below national averages.

In a follow-up experiment, researchers divided participants into two groups and had them indicate their monthly income. One group did so on a scale that only went up to $500, thus making them feel flush, and the other did so on a scale that went up to $500,000, thus making them feel that they lacked material resources. When presented with examples of crimes from assault to embezzlement, the second group—regardless of real income—tended to draw harsher judgments than people from the first group.

So here’s our big takeaway: don’t get indicted during a recession. It’ll probably go less well than normal.

Photo courtesy of Jonathan McIntosh

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