There's a not-so-subtle trend that psychologist Paul Piff says he's observed after seven years of research:
The more wealthy people are, the more self-entitled they act.
"What we've been finding across dozens of studies and thousands of participants across this country is that as person's levels of wealth increase, their feelings of compassion and empathy go down," Piff said in his talk. Piff, a post doctoral scholar at the University of California Berkeley, gave a recent TED talk based on the results of his studies.
One of the most interesting experiments Piff's lab conducted involved rigging a game of monopoly between two players so that one had the upper hand. A coin toss at the beginning of the game determined that the "rich" player would start with twice as much money and collect double the salary when he passed "go." He'd also get to roll two dice, whereas the "poor" player had to roll just one.
At the end of the game, the researchers asked the rich players to talk about why they thought they'd won the monopoly game. Instead of acknowledging their clear advantage, the rich players attributed the win to their strategy.
"They became far less attuned to all of those different features in this situation, including that flip of a coin that had randomly gotten them into that privileged position in the first place," Piff said.
Are Rich People Ruder, Too?
Piff said he observed the "rich" players became increasingly rude to the "poor" players, constantly pointing out how little money their opponents had.
In a different experiment, Piff's team wanted to see how drivers of different cars treated pedestrians at crosswalks. They observed hundreds of cars over several days at a crosswalk in California, where it's illegal not to stop for pedestrians.
"What we found was that as the expensiveness of the vehicle increased, the drivers' tendencies to break the law increased as well," Piff said. "None of the cars in our least expensive car category broke the law. Close to 50 percent of cars in our most expensive vehicle category broke the law."
So what does Piff make of these disheartening findings? Surprisingly he's not completely discouraged. Piff said that further research has shown that small psychological nudges can restore egalitarianism in any individual. For example, study participants were asked to watch a 46-second video on childhood poverty. The results:
"After watching this video, an hour later, rich people became just as generous of their own time to help out [a stranger] as someone who's poor," Piff said.
You can watch the full TED talk here.