A study recently published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests a connection between money and the ability of people to infer others’ emotions, and that connection isn’t what you might expect. In two separate experiments, groups of University of California-Santa Barbara students were instructed to watch videos of people discussing a recent experience, and then to guess at what the people were feeling. Those members who were offered a financial reward for guessing correctly actually were less accurate in their results than those who were offered another type of reward or no reward at all.
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The findings imply that when money comes into the picture, people tend to focus on their own self-interest rather than that of others. Psychologists Christine Ma-Kellams and Jim Blascovich write: “These findings are particularly compelling given that, in both [experiments], it (literally) paid to be empathically accurate…Despite the fact that correctly inferring the emotional states of others would have resulted in financial gain, individuals who focused on the monetary payoff performed worse relative to those who did not.”