Money Makes Mean?: Spiritual Practice of Generosity, 1


If you are unusually self-aware, you might have noticed a very slight feeling of tightening or closing at just the mention of the word. Or maybe, if you're that self-aware, you might have transcended the reactivity that's so common. Research suggests that simply having the idea of money planted in mind has a tendency sometimes to reduce inclinations toward generosity. So I’m taking a risk by talking about money. I’m hoping that knowing about human psychology around money will allow us to decide to override the usual reactivity.

The average income in the world is less than $10,000 a year. Perhaps your household is a little above the world average. Our very wealth itself can make us less generous, if we let it – if we don’t intentionally counter-act the effects of wealth through the practice of generosity.

In one study, experimenters enlisted undergraduates to play monopoly, two players at a time, but with different rules. One randomly selected player started the game with $2,000 of monopoly money, got $200 for passing Go each time, and threw two dice for every move – which, you may recall, is the normal way monopoly is played. Let’s call this player Bob. The other player, let’s call him Bill, started with $1,000, got $100 for passing Go each time, and threw one die for every move.
“The students play for 15 minutes under the watchful eye of two video cameras, while down the hall researchers huddle around a computer screen, later recording the subjects’ every facial twitch and hand gesture.”
What happens?

Initially Bob
"reacted to the inequality between him and his opponent with a series of smirks, an acknowledgment, perhaps of the inherent awkwardness of the situation. 'Hey,' his expression seemed to say, 'This is weird and unfair, but whatever.' Soon, though, as he whizzes around the board, purchasing properties and collecting rent, whatever discomfort he feels seems to dissipate....He balloons in size, spreading his limbs toward the far ends of the table. He smacks his playing piece as makes the circuit – smack, smack, smack – ending his turns with a board-shuddering bang!...As the game nears its finish, [Bob] moves his [piece] faster....He’s all efficiency. He refuses to meet [Bill’s] gaze. His expression is stone cold as he takes the loser’s cash."
Another study
“showed through quizzes, online games, questionnaires, in-lab manipulations, and field studies that living high on the socioeconomic ladder can, colloquially speaking, dehumanize people. It can make them less ethical, more selfish, more insular, and less compassionate than other people.”
In one experiment, wealthier people were more likely to take candy from a bowl of sweets designated for children. If there is such a thing as entitlement culture, it is more often (not always, of course, but more often) the wealthy who feel most entitled. As psychologist Paul Piff concludes,
“While having money doesn’t necessarily make anybody anything, the rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people. It makes them more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, [jerks]....People higher up on the socioeconomic ladder are about three times more likely to cheat than people on the lower rungs.”
The extent to which people with money behave as if the world revolves around them was further illustrated in another study. Paul Piff and this research team
“spent three months hanging out at...a gritty, busy corner with a four-way stop....[They] would stake out the intersection at rush hour, crouching behind a bank of shrubs… and catalog the cars that came by, giving each vehicle a grade from one to five. (Five would be a new-model Mercedes, say, and one would be an old battered Honda....) Then the researchers would observe drivers’ behavior. A third of people who drove grade-five cars, Piff found, rolled into the intersection without first coming to a compete stop....‘Upper-class drivers were the most likely to cut off other vehicles even when controlling for time of day, driver’s perceived sex, and amount of traffic.’"
A similar experiment tested
"drivers’ regard for pedestrians....A researcher would enter a zebra crossing as a car approached it. The results were more staggering....Fully half the grade-five cars cruised right into the crosswalk. ‘It’s like they didn’t even see them,' [said Piff]."

Paul Piff's TED Talk, "Does Money Make You Mean?"

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This is part 1 of 4 of "The Spiritual Practice of Generosity"
Click for other parts:
Part 2: Mo Money Blues,
Part 3: One Glove and Ten Percent,
Part 4: Give It Away!

See also:
Paul Krugman, "Privilege, Pathology and Power," New York Times, 2016 Jan 1.
Maia Szalavitz, "Wealthy Selfies: How Being Rich Increases Narcissism," Time, 2013 Aug 20.

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