Does Money Make You Mean? (or Do Nice Guys Really Finish Last?)

Every few months it seems there’s another bullshit article about how New Yorker’s are healthier than people in other states, or something else that’s based on real numbers, but ignores obvious class and income factors. The science behind these types are articles isn’t necessially flawed–just the assumptions and easy headlines that are drawn from it.

And I know that’s the case with the article in the week’s New York magazine: “The Money-Empathy Gap” , but it’s still kind of refreshing to see the other side of the coin–especially from a magazine as aspirational as New York. The article is based on recent research that points to the idea that the money money someone has that less they show concern for other people and the more self-interested they are. Of course you can’t make a sweeping generalization that all rich people are jerks–they even point out that the wealthier you are the more likely you are to contribute to charity (although I feel like that’s proportional–giving $100 when you make over $100,000/year isn’t the same as giving $100 when you make $20,000/year).

The results of the various studies are interesting though: even giving one player more (fake) money while playing monopoly made him disregard the presence of the other player almost completely, and act out his (imagined)  social dominance in his body language, like one of Jane Goodall’s chimps.  The theory being that the more money you have the less important you view other people because they can’t help you–you lose the “we are all in this together” feeling and have more of a “taking care of number 1” mentality. I can’t resit the urge to reference Mitt Romney’s “I’m not concerned about the poor” comment, which yes I know is taken (slightly) out of context, but you have to admit is a sentiment he no doubt feels–he’s not concerned about the poor–what can they do for him?

This idea that the wealthy think more about themselves and their own self-interest is kind of a chicken vs. egg situation–are rich kids raised to believe that their success is the most important thing? Does that kind of thinking make you more successful and thus more wealthy?  Even if this could be proved as empathiclly true, it’s kind of unlikely that anything would be done to change it–rich people generally don’t want give up their places for the greater good, and America is built in such a way that we reward that kind of thinking. “Niceness” and empathy are talked about almost as weaknesses–“Nice guys finish last.”  And the mentality of blurring or disregarding the rules to get ahead can be seen time and time again in the news by students cheating at elite schools and the countless banking scandals

In my own anecdotal evidence, I’ve noticed in all of my years living in big cities that by and large the people who give money to the homeless are almost never the people that look like they have the most money–if fact it’s usually people who look like they have the least.

The article also includes a quiz where you rate your income level and then take 4 tests of your ethics and empathy to see where you fall on the scale. When I took it I feel on the high end of compassion for my level. So there– after years of wondering, a magazine quiz has finally confirmed–I’m a good person. 🙂


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