Are you ready for this?
There is a large body of research that is showing that money changes the way people see others – and that the more money you have, the more oblivious you are to others and their problems. Surprised?
This is according to a paper published in the journal of Psychological Science in which psychologists at New York University determined a few things…Quartz has more:
In the paper, the researchers describe experiments they conducted to measure the effects of social class on what’s called the “motivational relevance” of other human beings. According to some schools of psychological thought, we’re motivated to pay attention to something when we assign more value to it, whether because it threatens us or offers the potential for some kind of reward.
The NYU team had a group of 61 study participants walk down a city block in Manhattan wearing Google Glass. The pedestrians, who were told they were testing the technology, later filled out surveys asking them to self-identify their social class. Analyzing the Google Glass recordings, the researchers found that those who had self-identified as wealthy didn’t rest their eyes on their fellow humans for as long as those who said they were from lower social classes.
The researchers conducted a pair of similar follow-up studies using an advanced eye-tracking system. This time, students recruited for the study viewed a series of photographs taken from Google Street View on a computer screen, then answered the same survey about social class. Again, the researchers found that students self-identifying as wealthier spent less time looking at people.
But of course, that was only one aspect of the research.
Psychologists wanted to test whether “the difference in the amount of time a participant dwelled on a person was the consequence of a conscious decision or a spontaneous cognitive reaction,” so this is what they did:
They recruited nearly 400 participants for an online study and had them look at alternating pairs of pictures, each of which contained an array of various items, always including one face and five objects (like fruit, an appliance, or an article of clothing.) One picture would appear briefly on the screen, and then be replaced by a second picture that was either identical or nearly identical to the first. The two images would keep flickering this way until the participant hit the spacebar to indicate they had detected a change in one of the objects, or the face, in the photo, or that they had decided there had been no change.
People self-identifying as less wealthy were significantly faster than those of a higher social class at noticing change in faces in the photos, a sign, the researchers say, that faces held higher motivational relevance for them.
But what does this all mean? Basically it’s pretty average:
One percenters of the world may not be terribly concerned about societal income gaps, but they should care about a significant disadvantage to having a bigger stockpile of cash than everyone else: a diminished ability to experience the benefits of strong interpersonal relationships, which may be the most rewarding part of the human experience—even the secret to happiness, according to a 50-year study from Harvard.
Humans are built to thrive in a community, and without it we are at increased risk of loneliness, which is harmful to one’s health, and can play a role in heart disease, depression, and even premature death.
As they say, privilege comes at a cost, but there’s nothing more humbling than getting to know someone outside your class so maybe you should make some sort of effort every now and then.
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