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April 9, 2012

One Result of Income Inequality--Dubious Psychological Studies

As an academic specialty, psychology suffers from a distinct lack of respect. For one clue as to why, consider the story last week on Inside Higher Ed, Does Income Inequality Promote Cheating?. A doctoral student at Queens University in Ontario says yes--and he didn't even have to leave his computer to reach that conclusion. A Google search for sites that offer college students free term papers or easily plagiarized papers for sale, he says, suggests that states with the highest income inequality generate social mistrust that leads to a generally high rate of cheating.

To reach this conclusion, several helpful assumptions were necessary: that cheating comes from a lack of trust, that lack of trust comes from a lack of income equality and that income distribution rates in large and fairly arbitrary political units--states--are the key to the rate of cheating.

Hmm. Using this sort of analysis, it could be argued that poor people in generally well-off states are the biggest cheaters, or that people in states with the most vegetable gardens cheat the most (growing your own food, like cheating, is a response by low-income people to affluent neighbors). Also, what about the findings of Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam (Bowling Alone)? He did a five-year study with a surprising finding: diversity generates a lack of trust. Trust, he found, even for members of one's own race or ethnic group, is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friendships fewer, in racially diverse areas. If he is right, then the obvious move to re-establish social trust and wipe out cheating would be to cut back on immigration and integration. Or maybe we should just look for another study.

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