Greedy bastards: Testing the relationship between wanting more and unethical behavior

Terri G. Seuntjens*, Marcel Zeelenberg, Niels van de Ven, Seger M. Breugelmans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Greed is often seen as immoral. Although the assumption that greed elicits unethical behavior is widespread, there is surprisingly little empirical research testing this relationship. We present a series of three studies investigating the association between greed and unethical behavior, using different methodologies and samples from the USA, The Netherlands, and Belgium. Study 1 (3 samples, total N = 3413) reveals that more greedy individuals find a variety of transgressions more acceptable and justifiable as well as indicate that they have more often engaged in a variety of transgressions compared to less greedy individuals. Study 2 (N = 172) replicated these findings in an incentivized behavioral laboratory study where participants decided to accept a bribe or not. Greedy people were more likely to take a bribe and also preferred higher bribes. Study 3 (N = 302) examined a potential process relating greed to unethical behavior. Greedy people were more likely to transgress because they found the positive outcomes associated with the transgression more desirable, and therefore displayed lower self-control. Implications for general theories of greed and morality are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-156
Number of pages10
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
Early online date28 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


Author's note: We thank Nibud (the Dutch National Institute for Family Finance Information) for supporting this project, and Arjen Stege from 20th Century Fox for helping to collect the data of Sample 2 of Study 1. The LISS panel data were collected by CentERdata (Tilburg University, The Netherlands) through its MESS project funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO).

FundersFunder number
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek
Universiteit van Tilburg
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek


    • Dispositional Greed Scale
    • Greed
    • Morality
    • Self-control
    • Unethical behavior


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