Rich People Are Jerks, Says Michael Lewis... And Here's The Science On His Side Which Proves It

Leo DiCaprio Wolf of Wall StreetParamountLeonardo DiCaprio in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ a movie that depicts the rich-guy-as-jerk character type.

Does becoming rich make you a jerk? Or do jerks just have the right personality type for getting rich?

Either way, the research shows that wealthy people are more likely to behave in unethical, self-serving ways.

“Flash Boys” author Michael Lewis detailed as much in a recent article at the New Republic.

He cites a few telling examples from the research:

• Rich people are more likely to shoplift than the poor.

• People who make less than $US25,000 a year give away 4.2% of their income, while people who make more than $US150,000 give away only 2.7%.

• Brain scans find that wealthy people have less activity in brain areas associated with empathy.

Some of the most vivid research comes from University of California psychologist
Dacher Keltner. The experiments his lab ran are pretty astounding.

Lewis describes one example:

In one study, Keltner and his colleague Paul Piff installed note-takers and cameras at city street intersections with four-way stop signs. The people driving expensive cars were four times more likely to cut in front of other drivers than drivers of cheap cars. The researchers then followed the drivers to the city’s cross walks and positioned themselves as pedestrians, waiting to cross the street. The drivers in the cheap cars all respected the pedestrians’ right of way. The drivers in the expensive cars ignored the pedestrians 46.2 per cent of the time.

And another:

[R]esearchers invited a cross section of the population into their lab and marched them through a series of tasks. Upon leaving the laboratory testing room the subjects passed a big jar of candy. The richer the person, the more likely he was to reach in and take candy from the jar — and ignore the big sign on the jar that said the candy was for the children who passed through the department.

So if we take being a “good person” as “caring for other people,” then the rich, for some reason or another, seem more likely to lack in those humanitarian qualities.

“As you move up the class ladder,” Keltner tells Lewis, “you are more likely to violate the rules of the road, to lie, to cheat, to take candy from kids, to shoplift, and to be tightfisted in giving to others.”

Sounds a little bit like narcissism, eh?

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