Posts Tagged ‘Paul Piff’

Science Explains the World of Manafort and Gates

August 22, 2018

This post is based on an article by William Wan in 18 August 2018 its of the Washington Post. The article asks the question are rich people more likely to lie, cheat, and steal?

This is a timely question as Paul Manafort’s trial has revealed details of his alleged crimes: defrauding banks out of tens of millions of dollars, evading taxes by stashing huge sums in offshore accounts and using riches earned through unregistered word for governments to buy $15,000 ostrich and python jackets. Rick Gates, Manafort’s deputy testified about the small fortune he spent on globe-trotting infidelities. And last week, Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) was charged with insider trading. Scandals have shown Trump’s Cabinet members flouting government rules and ethics for private jet rides $31,000 dining table sets, $43,000 soundproof booths and questionable business trips abroad.

Dasher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkely has spent decades studying wealth, power, and privilege. He said, “To researchers who study wealth and power, it’s dismaying but not surprising, because it tracks so closely with our findings. The effect of power is sadly one of the most reliable laws of human behavior.” Six years ago, Keltner and a then graduate student in his lab, Paul Piff, published influential innovative research that confirmed many of our worst assumption about the rich and the corrupting power of wealth.

In one study, the researchers stationed themselves at a busy intersection with four-way stop signs and tracked the model of every car whose driver cut off others instead of waiting their turn. People driving expensive cars—like a brand-new Mercedes—were four times more likely to ignore right-of-way laws than those in cheap cars like an old beat-up Honda. Keltner said, “ It told us that there’s something about wealth and privilege that makes you feel like you’re above the law, that allows you to treat others like they don’t exist.”

Next, they had a researcher play a pedestrian trying to cross at a crosswalk and tracked which cars stopped as the law requires and which blew right past him. Every one of the cheapest cars stopped, while half of the expensive cars ignored the pedestrian in the crosswalk, many even making eye contact. Pedestrians need to be aware of this study. It could save their lives.

Religious leaders have been issuing warnings throughout the ages about the corrupting effects of wealth and power. Buddha gave up the rich life of a prince for enlightenment (and found it!). Jesus warned his disciples a camel would have an easier time squeezing through the eye of a needle than a rich man trying to get into God’s kingdom.

In the past few decades, a growing body of psychology research has tried to capture and measure the exact effect of wealth and behavior and morality. This research has shown the rich cheat more on their taxes. They cheat more on their romantic partners. The wealthy and better-educated are more likely to shoplift (HM finds this quite surprising). They are more likely to cheat on games of chance. They are often less empathetic. In studies of charitable giving, it is often the lower-income households that donate higher proportions of their income than middle-class and many upper-income folk.

Keltner and Piff in their 2015 paper found the rich are more likely to literally take candy from children. In that experiment, they first asked 129 subjects to compare their finances with people who had either more or less money. Then they give their subjects a jar of candy and told them the sweets were intended for children in a nearby lab but they could take some if they wanted. Those who felt richer after comparing their finances to poorer people took significantly more candy for themselves.

The findings build on similar research in recent years that suggest wealth and power strip people of their inhibitions, increase risk taking and feelings of entitlement and invulnerability. At the same time, power makes people less empathetic and able to see others’ perspectives.

Adam Galinsky of the Columbia Business School says, “Wealth is basically a mechanism for power and power has a freeing effect on people. It takes away the constraints of society and frees people to act according to their dominant desires.” His experiments have explored how power often propels people’s actions. In some cases, those desires may be altruistic or helpful to society, so power heightened those goals and can give rise to effective philanthropies. Often, however, power leads to self-serving behaviors unrestrained by the usual concerns over rules or the consequences for others.

Because much of the psychological research into wealth and power is relatively new, many of the findings are still being tested and need to be confirmed by replication, researchers say. Michael Kraus, a social psychologist at Yale’s School of Management says, “I wouldn’t say these questions are settled. There are disagreements about the exact effect of wealth on ethics and how large the effect is.” But the research has never seen such booming interest and momentum, with the growing inequality in America and a multimillionaire born into wealth in the White House.

Kraus said, “There’s a lot of reasons we should care about the ethics of wealthy people. Even if research found that they were no more unethical as anyone else, their influence on the world is so much greater. If someone like me steals something, it only affects a handful of people. But if someone like Manafort steals or lies or cheats it affects so many more people. There are foreign governments and banks involved. You start getting into that area where it can affect the whole country and the course of democracy.”

HM thinks that this discussion ignored an extremely important variable, and that is differences in individuals. There are billionaires like Warren Buffet, Bill and Melinda Gates who are giving away their fortunes. They do not believe in inherited wealth, which is particularly pernicious. And the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is using the tools of operations research to maximized the benefits of their giving. We need to learn how to produce more rich people to pursue the paths of these three outstanding individuals.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Wealth and Empathy

October 30, 2016

This post is motivated by an Opinion piece in the Outlook Section of the 23 October issue of the Washington Post by Karen Weese.  The title of the piece is “How can you tell if someone is kind?  Ask how rich they are.”

Past healthy memory blog posts have reported arguments by some who say that humans have the quality of empathy, which computers can never have.  HM has never bought these arguments.  One might argue that computers might not be able to feel empathy, computers can, and perhaps already have, shown the capacity to show empathy.  Moreover, this facility will increase over time.  If you read some of the healthymemory blog posts based on the book “Progress,” one finds scant historical evidence for empathy. Current events lead to the belief that perhaps most of the world’s problems can be attributed to a famine of empathy.

Ms. Weese begins with an anecdote about the tips she and a friend left at a Denny’s restaurant.  The bill was $11 and her friend tossed a $5 tip on the table.  Ms Weese was amazed.  Her friend worked as a caregiver and was raising two children on less than $19k a year.  Her friend explained, cocking her head at their waitress, who was visibly pregnant and speed-walking from table to table with laden platters in the busy restaurant.  “She’s been on her feet for probably six hours already and has three more to go, she has a baby on the way, you know she’s exhausted, and somehow she still took great care of us like she’s supposed to.  She needs it more than I do.”

Reese writes that “There’s little question that people find it easier to give when they see something of themselves in the recipient.”  She notes that families of cancer survivors participate eagerly in fundraising walks.  She also argues that it is also why hedge fund manager John Paulson gave $400 million last year to endowment rich Harvard University, and not to, say, Habitat for Humanity.

A study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that affluent people in homogeneously wealthy zip codes are less generous than equally affluent people in mixed-income communities.  People in homogeneous rich communities are less likely to see homeless people.

A study by Yale professor Michael Kraus found that when shown human faces with different expressions, lower-income participants are better than their more affluent counterparts at identifying the emotions correctly.

University of California psychology professors Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner recorded video at four way stop signs.  They found that the drivers of Toyotas and other inexpensive cars were four times less likely to cut off other drivers than the people steering BMWs and other high-end cars.  In a related experiment, drivers of more modest cars were more likely to respect the right-of-way of pedestrians in a cross-walk, while half the drivers of high-end cars motored right past them.  Other experiments have shown that lower income subjects were less likely than high income subjects to cheat, lie, and help themselves to a jar of candy meant for kids.

Other research has shown that just thinking about money can make people act more selfishly.  An experiment by University of Minnesota professor Kathleen Vohs primed some study participants with images of money or asked them to unscramble lists of words than included terms like “cash” and “bill”.  They were less likely than the unprimed participants to give money to a hypothetical charity.  And when a research assistant appeared to accidentally drop a box of pencils on the floor right beside the participants, money-primed subjects were less willing to help pick them up.

Of course, the question is why does this difference occur.  Initial evidence indicates that the difference can be found in brain activity.  When Keely Muscatell of the University of North Carolina Keely Muscatell showed high and low income subjects photos of human faces with accompanying human stories, the brains of the low-income subjects demonstrated much more activity in the areas associated with empathy than the rich subjects’ brains.

When Jennifer Stellar of the University of Toronto showed videos of children at St. Jude’s hospital undergoing medical procedures, lower-income viewers exhibited more heart-rate deceleration than their higher-income counterparts.  Scientists use heart-rate deceleration as a measure of compassion.

So, how can rich people become more empathetic?  Other research has found that rich subjects began to act more empathetically toward others when shown a vivid, emotional video about kids in poverty.

Regardless of wealth, it is well known that people respond better to the plight of a single case than that of a whole group.  This has been termed the “identifiable victim bias.”

Reese ends her piece as follows: “Perhaps all of us who do not worry about where our next meal is coming from could stand to widen our lens.”

HM believes that meditation will increase empathy.  Should it not increase empathy, then it is not being done properly.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.