Upper class jerks

September 1, 2013 | By | 1 Reply More

Are rich people jerks?  We need to be careful before generalizing, but some recent studies suggest that being monied tends correlate with insensitivity to the needs of others.   There are many exceptions to the rules, of course.  Many wealthy people dedicate their lives to helping the poor or the politically oppressed.   The tendency is the opposite, however.   Another caveat is the direction of causation:  Is it that the money corrupts or is it that the type of people who obsess about their own material cravings tend to accumulate more money.   Here’s an excerpt from an article by Joshua Holland at Moyers & Company (A Plutocracy Ruled by Self-Centered Jerks?”):

In one telling experiment, the researchers observed a busy intersection, and found that drivers of luxury cars were more likely to cut off other drivers and less likely to stop for pedestrians crossing the street than those behind the wheels of more modest vehicles.  “In our crosswalk study, none of the cars in the beater-car category drove through the crosswalk,” Piff told The New York Times. “But you see this huge boost in a driver’s likelihood to commit infractions in more expensive cars.” He added: “BMW drivers are the worst.”

Summing up previous research on the topic, Piff notes that upper-class individuals also “showed reduced sensitivity to others’ suffering” as compared with working- and middle-class people.

Lower-class individuals are more likely to spend time taking care of others, and they are more embedded in social networks that depend on mutual aid. By contrast, upper-class individuals prioritize independence from others: They are less motivated than lower-class individuals to build social relationships and instead seek to differentiate themselves from others.


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.

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  1. Ben says:

    Hmm, I wonder if the study included people who have 2 cars… one chevy nova and one brand new beemer. Perhaps the car itself plays some role – give them (us) a lamborghini or a hummer and who knows what would happen.

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