How Wealth Reduces Compassion
As riches grow, empathy for others seems to decline
By Daisy Grewal | April 10, 2012 | 56
Who is more likely to lie, cheat, and steal – the poor person
or the rich one? It’s temping to think that the wealthier you
are, the more likely you are to act fairly. After all, if you
already have enough for yourself, it’s easier to think about
what others may need. But research suggests the opposite is
true: as people climb the social ladder, their compassionate
feelings towards other people decline.
Berkeley psychologists Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner ran
several studies looking at whether social class (as measured
by wealth, occupational prestige, and education) influences
how much we care about the feelings of others. 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.
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