The fact that rich people often think they’re better than poor people is one of those unspoken truths of society. We all know it happens, even if no one likes to admit it.
Luckily, we’ve got the research to prove it. In a series of studies, University of California at Berkley Psychologist Paul K. Piff tested the links between social class, entitlement, and narcissism.
“Americans may be more narcissistic now than ever, but narcissism is not evenly distributed across social strata,” Piff wrote. “Higher social class is associated with increased entitlement and narcissism.”
Here’s how he proved it:
Study 1: Piff selected two groups of 100 or so adults to take a questionnaire that measured the extent to which they felt they deserve more than others. Next, he had them look at a picture of a ladder with 10 rungs representing people with different levels of income, education, and occupational prestige. Participants had to select a rung to represent where they felt they stood relative to others.
Findings: Wealthier people, particularly those whose parents were highly educated, were significantly more likely to think they deserved more than others. Combined with the second test, Piff found that the higher people put themselves on the ladder, the higher their sense of entitlement.
Study 2: Study groups completed something called a “Me Versus Other” scale to show how they see themselves versus others. Subjects choose between seven sets of four circles, in which the circle containing the word “me” is larger or smaller compared to the three circles containing the word “other.” The larger the “me” circle you pick, the more likely you’re a narcissist. Then they chose from 40 two-statement pairs (eg: “I like to look at myself in the mirror” or “I am not particularly interested in looking at myself in the mirror”), with one answer indicating narcissism. Afterward, they listed their income level.
Findings: Upper-class individuals were significantly more prone to increased narcissism, which is in part due to their greater sense of entitlement.
Study 3: Piff first had participants answer a series of questions about their financial upbringing. As they left the study room, they were asked to pose for a photograph for another study and told that there was a mirror down the hall where they could check themselves out before the photo was taken.
Findings: More than 60% of the participants used the mirror, and Piff found upper class people were significantly more likely to want to see themselves first.
Study 4: Piff wanted to see whether simply reminding people of egalitarian values could change their levels of narcissism. He asked one group of people to list three benefits of regarding others as equals. He asked another group to list three activities they did during an average day. Afterward, both groups took a questionnaire meant to show their sense of entitlement.
Findings: People who thought about egalitarian things showed much lower entitlement than those in the control condition.
“Bringing emerging social class theory to bear on the issue of historical trends in narcissistic personality, my research reveals that recent rises in narcissism may be most pronounced among upper-class individuals and less accelerated, if increasing at all, among lower-class individuals,” Piff concluded.