In his talk at TED talk Paul Piff depicts an interesting approach to this topic. Using rigged Monopoly, he observed pairs of players with unequal opportunities and changes in their behaviour throughout the game. It became clear that players with more money and more opportunities not only were way more demonstrative with their material success but also ruder to the poorer players. What is interesting is that wealthy players did not attribute their achievements to better starting conditions but to their own skills and abilities. So wealthy players self-focus is also drastically higher than normal.
In relation to this results, Piff said that:
As a person level of wealth increase their feelings of empathy and compassion go down. And their feelings of entitlement, of deservingness and their ideology of self-interest increases. In surveys we found that it’s actually wealthier individuals who are more likely to moralize greed being good, and that the pursuit of self-interest is favourable and moral.
Piff also points out that there is big difference in pro-social behaviour between poor and wealthy people. For example, he cites that expensive cars owners break law more often than those driving less expensive vehicles. As Piff’s research showed, wealthier people might also be more likely to steal candies from children.
All those implications are big issues for modern society. But there still might be a chance to overcome similar difficulties.
According to Paul Piff:
(…) small psychological innovations, small changes to people’s values, small nudges in certain directions can restore levels of egalitarianism and empathy.
Piff also stated that people behaviour could change if they were reminded of the advantages of cooperation and community.
Paul Piff is Assistant Professor of Psychology and Social Behaviour at the University of California. His other research includes social functions of emotion, emotion signaling and the effect of chaos.