Does Having More Money Make People More Mean?

There’s plenty of perks to having lots of money. Wealthy people tend to have nicer homes, take longer (and more luxurious) holidays, and are able to comfortably support their loved ones. But have you ever wondered how wealth affects human behaviour? Psychologist Paul Piff studies just that. Piff’s research focuses on the link between wealth and social behaviour - take a look at what his findings suggest.

Public perception of the poor and the wealthy varies greatly. While some believe that those with less means have more reason to act out on their self-interest, Paul Piff’s research suggests otherwise. “As a person’s levels of wealth increase, their feelings of compassion and empathy go down, and their feelings of entitlement, of deservingness, and their ideology of self-interest increases,” Piff says in his TEDxMarin talk. It is the wealthy, then, that are more likely to view self-interest as a favourable trait. But is all self-interest really that bad?

Well, Piff says, it’s not just self-interest that sets the wealthy apart from the poor, but also their increased likelihood to cheat and break laws. With the HRMC investigating £1.9 billion in potential tax avoidance by the super rich, Piff’s findings seem to ring true. But Piff makes the point that he’s not out to give wealthy people a bad name, nor does he want to incriminate them. He simply thinks this knowledge is important if we are to get serious about closing the economic inequality gap.

Piff isn’t the only researcher to come to the conclusion that wealthy people are less generous than their poorer counterparts. A 2012 Chronicle of Philanthropy Study revealed that US households that earned between 50,000 to $75,000 gave of 7.6% of their income to charity, while those who made make $100,000 or more gave 4.2%. The study concluded that there is a correlation between wealth and generosity - the more you have of the former, the less you have of the latter.

And while these findings may look pretty bleak, Piff points out that it isn’t that difficult to reverse the negative impact of wealth on one’s behaviour. Simple things, like reminding upper-class individuals the benefits of charity and cooperation can encourage them to act in more caring and selfless ways. “Small nudges in certain directions can restore levels of egalitarianism and empathy,” Piff says.

Intrigued to find out more? Check out these 6 studies on how money affects the mind. For the full (and very fascinating) Ted Talk, go here.