Since I started blogging at Psychology Today in November 2008, I have written several articles wherein I described studies involving cars. One of my earliest posts was about my own research with former graduate student John Vongas where we investigated how men’s testosterone levels were affected by the status of the cars that they drove (Porsche versus old sedan). Other articles that I have published on my blog on car-related themes include how physically attractive a man is perceived to be by women as a function of the car that he is driving; the ability of people to match cars to their owners; and how the status of individuals' cars affects how they are treated by others on the road as well as how they treat others (e.g., honking at an intersection light). In today’s post, I’d like to continue with this general “car” theme and discuss a recent article that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) and authored by Paul K. Piff, Daniel M. Stancato, Stéphane Côté, Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, and Dacher Keltner. I should first thank my Facebook friend and anthropologist Helga Vierich, for having alerted me to the study in question via this video wherein the research in question was summarized.

In the article, Piff et al. reported seven studies in which they showed that higher social status was associated with a greater likelihood of engaging in unethical behavior. I will restrict today’s discussion to their first two studies as these specifically used “car” manipulations. In study 1, the researchers kept track of whether or not drivers (n = 274) cut off one another at a four-way intersection (with stop signs on all four corners), and recorded the status of the cars for each of the observations. Cutting off in this case means to proceed through the intersection out of turn (as mandated by the California Vehicle Code). In study 2, they kept track of drivers’ (n = 152) yielding or not at a pedestrian crosswalk, and as in the first study recorded the status of each of the observed cars. Note that these were field experiments with the variables of interest being measured by coders who were otherwise blind to the posited hypotheses. Confederate pedestrians were used for the second study.

Here are the key findings:

1. In study 1, 12.4% of drivers violated the intersection code. A binary logistic regression revealed that drivers in high status cars were most likely to commit this violation even after controlling for the effect of the time of day, the driver’s perceived sex and age, and traffic density (p < .05).

2. In study 2, 34.9% violated the crosswalk code (i.e., did not yield to the confederate pedestrian). A binary logistic regression in which the time of day, the driver’s perceived age and sex, and the confederate’s sex were treated as covariates revealed that drivers in high status cars had a greater likelihood of committing this violation (p < .05).

Yet more empirical evidence in support of the folk premise that the rich have a greater sense of entitlement!

On a related note, see this article titled “Why BMW Drivers Are Jerks to Cyclists.” I owe a thank you to the political scientist Patrick Stewart for having shared the link to this article with me (on Facebook).

Please consider following me on Twitter (@GadSaad).

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