Science Closes In On the Reason Rich People Are Jerks
A few weeks ago when I blogged about a social-psych study that found people have more empathy when they feel low in status, I wasn't aware how much work is being done on the rich-asshole problem in social science.
A few weeks ago when I blogged about a social-psych study that found people have more empathy when they feel low in status, I wasn't aware how much work is being done in other fields on the rich-asshole problem in social science. Earlier this month, for example, the evolutionary theorist David Sloan Wilson reported a very similar finding. Wilson's student Dan O'Brien was researching cooperative behavior in a local primate species called the Binghamton, N.Y. high-school student. The higher a neighborhood's median income, O'Brien found, the less cooperative were its teen-agers.
It's always worth noting when researchers using different methods and theories get similar findings about people. My earlier post was about social psychologists who were trying to measure empathy. O'Brien used a technique from experimental economics: He had the kids play a game in which cooperation is better than betrayal, but only if your partner keeps faith. Reactions to these games vary a lot from culture to culture around the world. Amazingly, in Binghamton, N.Y., they vary in a similar way from neighborhood to neighborhood.
Wilson says he was surprised that income would correlate negatively with niceness, but, on reflection, it made sense in light of another project he's involved with: It's called "Design Your Own Park," and it engages neighbors to band together and take over a vacant lot, transforming it into a nice park. "Some of the people in low-income neighborhoods are the most amazing networkers that I have ever seen," Wilson writes. On the other hand, "some of the so-called 'nicer' neighborhoods are sadly inert. Each family keeps a tidy home and lawn and doesn’t make trouble for the others, but positive social connections are almost non-existent."
The fact that cooperativeness varies from culture to culture, Wilson writes, suggests an explanation: Human nature doesn't have a single default setting for helpfulness and respect. Instead, we have the capacity to learn how trusting, how open, and how generous to be with others. If you hunt whales in a tightly cooperating team, you learn to cooperate readily. If you farm a hardscrabble patch of dirt with only your near relatives to help, you're much more likely to want to screw over your fellow man.
Mapping this onto our class structure, Wilson suggests that the comforts of affluence are atrophying people's propensity to band with others to work for the common good. If you don't practice this social skill, he argues, it will go away. "Those of us who can pay with our credit cards don’t need to cooperate," he writes, "and so we forget how."
That notion is consistent with another finding, from yet another discipline, which I didn't know about when I wrote about the social psychologists. It seems there's an association between spending money on one's self and selfish conduct, and it doesn't require actual spending. In this 2009 paper Roy Y.J. Chua and Xi Zou, both professors of management, found that just getting people to think about that kind of spending was sufficient to make their decisions more selfish.
The pair showed 87 university students pictures of shoes and watches and had them complete a survey about the products. Then they answered questions about how they would behave as a chief executive in each of three hypothetical business decisions. Half the group had seen pictures of simple, functional shoes and watches. The others had viewed, and then described, top-end luxury goods.
Those who saw the luxury versions were significantly more likely to choose the selfish path in the business decisions. They were more inclined to OK the production of a car that would pollute the environment, the release of bug-riddled software, and the marketing of a videogame that would prompt kids to bash each other. That suggests, write Chua and Zou, that "mere exposure to luxury caused people to think more about themselves than others."
Do many years of such exposure make us forget how to cooperate for good, as Wilson suggests? Maybe. But maybe there's a bit more innate flexibility in the human psyche. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more people are volunteering in community organizations across the United States since the economic crisis began. That hints that when people have forgotten how to cooperate, they can remember—if someone just takes the money away.
Researchers have just discovered the remains of a hybrid human.
90,000 years ago, a young girl lived in a cave in the Altai mountains in southern Siberia. Her life was short; she died in her early teens, but she stands at a unique point in human evolution. She is the first known hybrid of two different kinds of ancient humans: the Neanderthals and the Denisovans.
These thought leaders, founders, and entrepreneurs are propelling the kind of future we want to be a part of.
- The tech industry may be dominated by men in terms of numbers, but there are lots of brilliant women in leadership positions that are changing the landscape.
- The women on this list are founders of companies dedicated to teaching girls to code, innovators in the fields of AI, VR, and machine learning, leading tech writers and podcasters, and CEOs of companies like YouTube and Project Include.
- This list is by no means all-encompassing. There are many more influential women in tech that you should seek out and follow.
Most said they want to act on their desire someday. But do open relationships actually work?
- The study involved 822 Americans who were in monogamous relationships at the time.
- Participants answered questions about their personalities, sexual fantasies, and intentions to act on those fantasies.
- Research suggests practicing consent, comfort, and communication makes open relationships more likely to succeed.
Consensual non-monogamy fantasies<p>For the new study, published in <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-020-01788-7" target="_blank">Archives of Sexual Behavior</a>, researchers asked 822 people in monogamous relationships to:</p><ul><li>Describe their favorite sexual fantasy, defined as "mental images you have while you are awake that you find to be sexually arousing or erotic."</li><li>Select which themes apply to that fantasy, such as having sex with multiple people at the same time, experimenting with taboos, or engaging in a sexually open relationship.</li><li>Answer whether they intended to carry out these fantasies, and discuss them with their partner.</li><li>Complete assessments on relationship satisfaction, erotophilia and personality, as measured by the Big Five Personality inventory.</li></ul><p>The results showed that 32.6 percent of participants said being part of a sexually open relationship was "part of their favorite sexual fantasy of all time." More surprising is that, of that one-third, 80 percent said they want to act on this fantasy in the future.</p>
Pretzelpaws via Wikipedia Commons<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The present research confirms the important distinction between sexual fantasy and sexual desire in that not everyone wanted to act on their favorite sexual fantasy of all time," study author Justin J. Lehmiller told <a href="https://www.psypost.org/2020/09/one-third-of-people-in-monogamous-relationships-fantasize-about-being-in-some-type-of-open-relationship-study-suggests-58102" target="_blank">PsyPost</a>. "This suggests that fantasies may serve different functions for different people."</p><p>Even though most participants said they want to act out their fantasy in the future, far fewer reported acting out sexual fantasies in the past. Other findings included:</p><ul><li>Men were more likely to fantasize about CNMRs.</li><li>So were people who scored high in <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erotophilia#:~:text=Erotophilia%20is%20a%20personality%20trait,ranging%20from%20erotophobia%20to%20erotophilia." target="_blank">erotophilia</a> and sociosexual orientation.</li><li>The psychological predictors of fantasizing about CNMRs differed from predictors about infidelity fantasies.</li></ul>
Do open relationships work?<p>A <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00224499.2019.1669133" target="_blank">2019 study</a> from psychologists at the University of Rochester suggests it <em>is </em>possible<em>, </em>but especially when both partners practice a trio of behaviors: consent, communication, and comfort — or, the Triple-C Model.<br></p>But the study also suggests not all forms of open relationships are equally viable. For example, people in one-sided CNMRs — where one partner stays monogamous, the other seeks outside sexual relationships — were nearly three times more dissatisfied in their relationships than the monogamous group <em>and </em>the consensual non-monogamous group.
The results of this study showed depressive symptoms being highest in adolescence, declining in early adulthood and then climbing back up again into one's early 30s.