All high-ranking people do not always turn out to be selfish jerks. Some become generous, especially those who do not feel their status is fair and equitable, a study says.
The researchers found that people with high social status who did not believe they earned that status were much more generous than high-status people who felt they deserved the respect and admiration of others.
“The effects of social status on generosity are contingent on deservingness, meaning that high-ranking people don’t always behave selfishly, as a significant amount of research suggests, but do indeed care about whether or not they deserve their position,” said lead researcher Nicholas Hays, Assistant Professor of Management at Michigan State University in the US.
Prominent people who don’t feel their status is fair and equitable become more generous with others to alleviate that sense of inequity, he explained.
The findings were published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Previous studies had found that powerful people tend to become more selfish regardless of fairness or equity.
In separate studies with more than 1,200 total participants, Hays and Steven Blader, Professor at New York University, examined the effects of social status on generosity.
The researchers found that while high-status people who felt worthy of their rank were indeed less generous, high-status people who felt unworthy were actually more generous.
Prior research has also found that generosity often leads to high social status. The current study takes that a step further by considering what happens after people have attained high status.
“We demonstrate that generosity may not persist once people achieve that high status,” Hays said.
“It depends on whether they feel that status is deserved,” he explained.