The affect of wealth on rudeness

July 24, 2012 | By | 2 Replies More

From and article titled “How Wealth Reduces Compassion” in Scientific American Mind: “[L]uxury car drivers were more likely to cut off other motorists instead of waiting for their turn at the intersection. This was true for both men and women upper-class drivers, regardless of the time of day or the amount of traffic at the intersection. In a different study they found that luxury car drivers were also more likely to speed past a pedestrian trying to use a crosswalk, even after making eye contact with the pedestrian.”

But why would it be that having a lot of money might lead people to be less compassionate to other people?

The answer may have something to do with how wealth and abundance give us a sense of freedom and independence from others. The less we have to rely on others, the less we may care about their feelings. This leads us towards being more self-focused. Another reason has to do with our attitudes towards greed. Like Gordon Gekko, upper-class people may be more likely to endorse the idea that “greed is good.”

To be fair, many wealthy people are incredibly compassionate and, in fact, many wealthy people are prime movers behind organizations that seek the level the playing field.  The big question, then, is what is going on in the minds of THOSE people that allows them to escape the corrupting influence of money?


Category: income disparity, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

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    • Erich Vieth says:

      Thanks, Brynn. These are excellent and thought-provoking resources.

      Here are some excerpts I especially enjoyed:

      Article 1:

      [D]ata reinforces Elhauge’s conclusion that the nature of modern stock markets discourages prosocial investing. This is because, while most people are capable of and even inclined toward prosociality, the data demonstrates our prosocial impulses depend on largely on external social cues. As I explore in my 2011 book Cultivating Conscience: How Good Laws Make Good People, in some social situations (buying a used car) a person will act purely selfishly, while in another social situation (attending a wedding reception) the same person becomes more altruistic. We might call this the “Jekyll-Hyde Syndrome.”

      Article 2:

      The “upper class,” as defined by the study, were more likely to break the law while driving, take candy from children, lie in negotiation, cheat to raise their odds of winning a prize and endorse unethical behavior at work, the research found. The solution, Piff said, is to find a way to increase empathy among wealthier people. “It’s not that the rich are innately bad, but as you rise in the ranks — whether as a person or a nonhuman primate — you become more self-focused,” Piff said. “You can change that by reminding upper-class people of the needs of others.

      Article 3:

      Unlike the rich, lower class people have to depend on others for survival, Keltner argued. So they learn “prosocial behaviors.” They read people better, empathize more with others, and they give more to those in need.

      That’s the moral of Capra movies like “You Can’t Take It With You,” in which a plutocrat comes to learn the value of community and family. But Keltner, author of the book “Born To Be Good: The Science of A Meaningful Life,” doesn’t rely on sentiment to make his case.

      He points to his own research and that of others. For example, lower class subjects are better at deciphering the emotions of people in photographs than are rich people. In video recordings of conversations, rich people are more likely to appear distracted, checking cell phones, doodling, avoiding eye contact, while low-income people make eye contact and nod their heads more frequently signaling engagement.

      These article suggest that being rich is a risk factor for mental illness.

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