There’s a Personal Cost to Callousness. In March, researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, published a study in Psychological Science that should make anyone think twice before ignoring a homeless person or declining an appeal from a charity.
Daryl Cameron and Keith Payne found that after people were instructed to restrain feelings of compassion in the face of heart-wrenching images, those people later reported feeling less committed to moral principles. It was as if, by regulating compassion, the study participants sensed an inner conflict between valuing morality and living by their moral rules; to resolve that conflict, they seemed to tell themselves that those moral principles must not have been so important. Making that choice, argue Cameron and Payne, may encourage immoral behavior and even undermine our moral identity, inducing personal distress.
“Regulating compassion is often seen as motivated by self-interest, as when people keep money for themselves rather than donate it,” write the researchers. “Yet our research suggests that regulating compassion might actually work against self-interest by forcing trade-offs within the individual’s moral self-concept.”
High Status Brings Low Ethics. They may have more money, but it seems that the upper class are poorer in morality. In a series of seven studies, published in March in PNAS, researchers found that upper-class people are more likely than the lower class to break all kinds of rules—to cut off cars and pedestrians while driving, to help themselves to candy they know is meant for children, to report an impossible score in a game of chance to win cash they don’t rightfully deserve.