New research has found a childhood pattern of antisocial tendencies among entrepreneurs.
Researchers at the University of Stockholm and Friedrich Schiller University at Jena, Germany, found that as children, entrepreneurs had a higher tendency to break rules, including frequent disregard of parental orders, more frequent cheating at school and more use of drugs.
The researchers set out to answer a series of questions about entrepreneurs, such as:
- Are entrepreneurs a particularly self-serving species with their own moral ideas and ethical principles?
- Do these entrepreneurs who are only interested in their own benefit and profit exist?
- And if so, what makes them this way?
In their search for antisocial tendencies in business founders, the team of researchers followed about 1,000 children from a medium-sized Swedish town over 40 years.
“We analyzed this data regarding the entrepreneurship the participants were showing later on in their professional careers. We wanted to know what kind of social behavior they showed,” said Martin Obschonka, Ph.D., from the Center for Applied Developmental Science at the Jena university.
The scientists analyzed extensive data regarding rule-breaking behavior and attitudes of the participants from adolescence into adulthood, including data on criminal offenses.
Through the analysis of the data, the researchers said they were able to establish systematic antisocial tendencies in the entrepreneurs.
In comparison to others who didn’t start their own business, entrepreneurs had a distinctly higher tendency to rule-breaking behavior at school, at home dealing with their parents, and in their free time.
Examples included more frequent disregard of parental orders, more frequent cheating at school, truancy from school, more regular drug use, and more instances of shoplifting. These results were most notable among the male participants in the study, according to the researchers.
“On the other hand, the study also shows a different side of the entrepreneurial types,” said Obschonka. “Because when they were grown-ups there were no more differences between the non-entrepreneurial types regarding the anti-social tendencies.
“Moreover, the data pointed to the fact that the early antisocial tendencies could be narrowed down to smaller misdemeanors,” Obschonka said. “That is to say that the analyses of the crime data of the police show that entrepreneurial types are not significantly different from other people when it comes to officially punished behavior — neither in their adolescence nor in their adulthood.
“On the basis of the data, it can be argued that, on average, entrepreneurs don’t have more criminal careers than the non-founders. Likewise there was no difference to be found regarding the antisocial attitudes.”
However, the urge towards antisocial behavior was clearly present in adolescence, he said.
“But this doesn’t lead to the conclusion that in adulthood the rules have to be broken serially and that antisocial behavior will be de rigueur,” Obschonka said.
The actual behavior of entrepreneurs doesn’t correlate with the established prejudices, he noted.
“It is often claimed that their personality type is rather anti-social and that they are only self-interested,” he said. “It is decisive for entrepreneurs to realize innovations and visions. In people who are able to take those unusual and risky routes, a proximity to non-conformism can often be found. This courage to explore the unusual and the novel could have its roots in adolescent rule-breaking behavior.”
The study found that “rebellious adolescent behavior against socially accepted standards and an early questioning of boundaries doesn’t necessarily lead to criminal and antisocial careers,” he concluded. “It can rather be the basis for a productive and socially acceptable entrepreneurship.”