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The age of entitlement: how wealth breeds narcissism


…Drivers of high-status vehicles were three times as likely to fail to yield at pedestrian crossings. In contrast, all the drivers of the least expensive type of car gave way to pedestrians.

Fascinated by these results, Piff and his colleagues then looked at what created these impulses to bad behaviour. In their laboratory, the richest students were more likely to consider “stealing or benefiting from things to which they were not entitled” than those from a middle-class or lower-class background…

The reason, it turns out, is that even thoughts of being wealthy can create a feeling of increased entitlement — you start to feel superior to everyone else and thus more deserving: something at the centre of narcissism. They found this was true of people who were, in real life, better off. Wealthier people were more likely to agree with statements like “I honestly feel I’m just more deserving than other people” and place themselves higher on a self-assessed “class ladder” that indicated increasing levels of income, education and job prestige. This had straightforward and clearly measurable effects on behaviour.

Well-off people were less likely to help a person who entered the laboratory in distress, unless they had just watched a video about child poverty. In a series of controlled experiments, lower-income people and those who identified themselves as being on a relatively low social rung were consistently more generous with limited goods than upper-class participants were.

Outside the lab, Piff found that the rich donated a smaller percentage of their wealth than poorer people. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans, those with earnings in the top 20%, contributed 1.3% of their income to charity, while those in the bottom 20% donated 3.2% of their income. The trend to meanness was worst in plush suburbs where everyone had a high income, and never laid eyes on a poor person. Insulation from people in need, Piff concluded, dampened charitable impulses.

Christopher Lasch wrote a great book on the subject in 1979.

(Source: downlo)

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