Compassion vs. Greed

Have you ever wondered why some of the wealthiest people are often the least compassionate towards those less fortunate? Did their ruthlessness breed financial success or did their success breed ruthlessness?

Berkeley psychologists Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner have been trying to determine this chicken and egg scenario.

“In one study, Piff and his colleagues discreetly observed the behavior of drivers at a busy four-way intersection. They found that luxury 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.”

You could argue luxury cars attract a certain personality type to begin with, possibly skewing the results. What other evidence do these Berkeley psychologists have to offer? Here’s another study with similar results:

“In a second study, participants were asked to watch two videos while having their heart rate monitored. One video showed somebody explaining how to build a patio. The other showed children who were suffering from cancer. After watching the videos, participants indicated how much compassion they felt while watching either video. Social class was measured by asking participants questions about their family’s level of income and education. The results of the study showed that participants on the lower end of the spectrum, with less income and education, were more likely to report feeling compassion while watching the video of the cancer patients. In addition, their heart rates slowed down while watching the cancer video—a response that is associated with paying greater attention to the feelings and motivations of others.”

In the article by Scientific American, the writer suggests an interesting explanation as to why the wealthier seem to value greed more than others.

“Piff and his colleagues suspect that 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.”

To put this in other terms, somewhere along the way to accumulating all that money, you simply ran out of f*cks to give to others.

It’d be really interesting to hear the viewpoint of someone that rose from the bottom to the top and whether they agree with this study (most subjects in the study were classified by their family’s income so the “wealthy” typically implied generational wealth). Anyone on WSO want to contribute their thoughts?

Read this on WSO here.


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