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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Rich

     In the United States, as in most all countries, those who hold most of the power tend to come from privileged backgrounds. When in comes to the US Congress, collectively, their gains have outpaced the market and their net worth is five times US median. i.e. the people’s representatives just keep getting richer and doing so faster than the people represented. 
     According to a 2012 article in the Scientific American and a 2017 article in Mind and Body as riches grow, empathy for others declines. We would like to think that the wealthier you are, the more likely you are to act fairly. After all, you already have enough for yourself, so it’s easier to think about what others may need. 
     But that thinking doesn’t line up with research which indicates the exact opposite is true. Two University of Berkeley psychologists did several studies to find out if wealth, occupational prestige and education influenced how much people care about the feelings of others. 
No intersection privileges
     One of their observations was 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. I always knew that...when it comes to intersections I have always told my wife the most expensive car has the right of way. That’s why I usually let others go first...Ford Escapes don’t rank very high. They also 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. 
     In another experiment they asked people to spend a few minutes comparing themselves either to people better off or worse off than themselves financially. Afterwards, they were shown a jar of candy and told that they could take home as much as they wanted and the leftover candy would be given to children. Those who spent time thinking about how much better off they were compared to others ended up taking significantly more candy for themselves. 
     It was found that less affluent individuals are more likely to report feeling compassion towards others. One study showed that participants with less income and education were more likely to report feeling compassion than their wealthier counterparts while watching a video of the cancer patients. 
     Why does wealth decrease feelings of compassion for others? Logic says it would be the other way around. Having fewer resources would lead to selfishness. 
     The suspicion is that wealth gives a person a sense of freedom and independence from others. The less they have to rely on others, the less they care about their feelings. Remember presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s famous statement "I'm not concerned about the very poor." 
     Wealthy people may be more likely to endorse the idea that greed is good and it is justified, beneficial, and morally defensible. Hence the greater likelihood of the wealthy engaging in unethical behavior. 
     An Arizona State University neuroscientist published a study in the journal Culture and Brain in 2015 found that the higher the subject's status, the less their brain reacted to photos of people suffering. 
     The conclusion was empathy...is reduced among those who are higher in status. A study out of New York University found that when walking around a city block, higher-class people have a shorter social gaze meaning the amount of time they look at the people around them. 
     Researchers theorize that poor people have to rely on others, live in a less-secure environment and spend more time doing things that put them in the presence of other people and learn skills in social interaction. Not the rich. They go out and try to make themselves happy and they take care of themselves. 

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