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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.

Quote:
"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:

Quote:
"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.

Quote:
"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?

Comments (27)

  • Aldrich IV's picture

    Well once you realize how screwed up reality is. And sacrificed your empathy to succeed in that reality.

  • MrBroadway's picture

    thats the culture we live in...greed is good!

  • Anacott_CEO's picture

    You definitely sacrifice your own well being when you start to worry about other people. ^ Greed is good.

  • Human's picture

    It is killed or be killed world out there. Personally, I think you are only responsible for your power base made out of your constituents. See Economist's article on "How to be a dictator", http://www.economist.com/node/21542299.

    "I am the hero of the story. I don't need to be saved."

  • illiniPride's picture

    Moral Hazard:

    If none follow the rules of the road, all suffer.
    If all follow the rules, all benefit.
    But if most follow the rules, those who break them benefit more.

    Hard to draw causation out of this (ability to pay tickets, assertiveness, lack of empathy, etc.)

    Leadership can be defined in two words: "Follow Me"

  • In reply to Human
    UFOinsider's picture

    My understanding is that (a) honestly (b) adding value and (c) being savvy with people is usually enough. Are there some total jerkoff sharks that have made a killing, yes. Are there guys that simply knuckled down and got shit done who are at least as wealthy, yes. It depends on your personality.

    People tend to get what they deserve. There's a LOT of ambitious, successful people who aren't dicks about it. They also tend to be more focused on work than the self worth / identity issues you're wrestling with, so realize that you're shortchanging yourself by not focusing on work. My personal take: don't be an asshole, don't be a pussy, just be a smart, hardworking, ambitious person who is cool to be around.

    Get busy living

  • Aragorn's picture

    Don't mistake compassion for weakness.

    "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." - DT

  • In reply to Aragorn
    UFOinsider's picture

    Aragorn wrote:
    Don't mistake compassion for weakness.

    Perfectly stated

    Get busy living

  • In reply to illiniPride
    BTbanker's picture

    illiniPride wrote:
    Moral Hazard:

    If none follow the rules of the road, all suffer.
    If all follow the rules, all benefit.
    But if most follow the rules, those who break them benefit more.

    Hard to draw causation out of this (ability to pay tickets, assertiveness, lack of empathy, etc.)


    This may sound douchey, but the 3rd one just sounds better. What's so special about driving a Ferrari if everyone else has one?

  • guyfromct's picture

    If you are wealthy you're amazingly compassionate, your money is invested, it creates jobs, capitalism has helped the plight of the poor more than anything. Also, you ever see the amount of philanthropy done by the uber-wealthy? The Gates Foundation does a lot

  • In reply to BTbanker
    UFOinsider's picture

    Connor wrote:
    But if most follow the rules, those who break them benefit more.

    I don't see it. Madoff is in jail. Raj is going to jail. Corzine likely will too. Fuld is disgraced. Chatter indicates Paulson will be investigated. etc etc etc

    Meanwhile, the guys that were smart and did what they supposed to...make money legitimately...are richer than ever and still in business.

    Get busy living

  • MailmanBitesDog's picture

    Compare this with one of my previous blog posts, in which a study found people are more likely to cheat for charity. The two studies seem to almost perfectly conflict with each other, with one stating personal greed trumps compassion, and the other claiming people are more likely to deceive when giving to others. I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with this, but I think the whole dynamic is really intriguing and like to hear feedback from others.

    http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/blog/cheating-for-c...

  • streetwannabe's picture

    Has anyone watched the second installment of the Frontline documentary, "Money, Power, and Wall Street"? Made me reconsider some things.

    "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme."

  • In reply to UFOinsider
    illiniPride's picture

    UFOinsider wrote:
    Connor wrote:
    But if most follow the rules, those who break them benefit more.

    I don't see it. Madoff is in jail. Raj is going to jail. Corzine likely will too. Fuld is disgraced. Chatter indicates Paulson will be investigated. etc etc etc

    Meanwhile, the guys that were smart and did what they supposed to...make money legitimately...are richer than ever and still in business.

    This was simply about driving habits.

    Leadership can be defined in two words: "Follow Me"

  • In reply to illiniPride
    UFOinsider's picture

    illiniPride wrote:
    UFOinsider wrote:
    Connor wrote:
    But if most follow the rules, those who break them benefit more.

    I don't see it. Madoff is in jail. Raj is going to jail. Corzine likely will too. Fuld is disgraced. Chatter indicates Paulson will be investigated. etc etc etc

    Meanwhile, the guys that were smart and did what they supposed to...make money legitimately...are richer than ever and still in business.

    This was simply about driving habits.


    I'm applying the general principal to industry. Applying abstractions subjectively is easy, there are posts with hundreds of comments here where people do so. Being dishonest / dickish in the current environment as an entry level hire will only work against you.

    Get busy living

  • AndyLouis's picture

    from a friend

    Quote:

    Anyways, greedy ppl suck. But the point is not to feel compassion, it is to do something about the way you feel, however small that something is.

    The illusion that we are rational beings and not just chemical reactions in our brains is what makes humans more evolved than other animals. Let's not act as if the stronger were the only ones who are allowed to survive.

    And emotions are great, makes the whole living experience a lot richer than just being driven by instinct. Conflict and passion is what human life is all about. Allowing emotions to determine a part of your behaviour gives a great sense of freedom too, as irrational as they might be, because you might want to ignore them but they are there still. Cancelling emotions out only gives you a sad lonely life, no matter how many people around you.

    And I still disagree with the statement that everyone should help themselves, because there's a social context that cannot be neglected. If people all had the same opportunities from the minute they are born, it would be different.

  • BTbanker's picture

    Well, let's just make it clear that I would never participate in insider trading. I was merely trying to say that a socioeconomic hierarchy is necessary for people to work hard and get ahead, not necessarily by breaking the law.

  • In reply to BTbanker
    UFOinsider's picture

    Connor wrote:
    I was merely trying to say that a socioeconomic hierarchy is necessary

    A division of labor is, but the original theoreticians of capitalism...all of them...didn't address the issue of heirarchy, it's not even implied. The subject of heirarchy is more thoroughly examined by left leaning thinkers, even if the implementation was never anything more than a glorified dictatorship. Their concept of who had power was simply the capitalists and then the employees, the reporting structure of every industry is widely variable.

    Get busy living

  • Human's picture

    Thought this would be relevant:
    http://healthland.time.com/2012/04/27/humility-a-q...

    "Humility doesn’t top the list of popular virtues these days, but if you’re ever in need of help, a humble friend is more likely to be there for you than a prideful one, new research suggests.

    Humbleness has also been linked with generosity. Studies find that the trait predicts charitable giving and generous behavior toward others in monetary games played in the lab. “Compassion is hard if you don’t have humility,” says psychologist Jordan LaBouff of the University of Maine.

    What’s more, humble people tend to make better employees and bosses. But because the typical American workplace tends to reward self-promotion over humility, such modest types may have a tough time making it to the top.

    Evolutionary theory suggests that humble people will be more helpful to the group because a trait that involves subsuming one’s own needs to those of others is only likely to be preserved in a species in which cooperation is necessary for survival. Humans, who are generally incapable of thriving or raising vulnerable children in the wild without help from others, are probably one such species."

    "I am the hero of the story. I don't need to be saved."

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  • wolverine19x89's picture

    If your dreams don't scare you, then they are not big enough.

    "There are two types of people in this world: People who say they pee in the shower, and dirty fucking liars."-Louis C.K.

  • In reply to wolverine19x89
    Human's picture

    "I am the hero of the story. I don't need to be saved."

  • In reply to MailmanBitesDog
    wolverine19x89's picture

    If your dreams don't scare you, then they are not big enough.

    "There are two types of people in this world: People who say they pee in the shower, and dirty fucking liars."-Louis C.K.