Paul Piff: Does money make you mean?


Paul Piff studies how social hierarchy, inequality and emotion shape relations between individuals and groups.


Paul shows us footage of a psychological experiment – a rigged 2 player monopoly game where they randomly pick one player to be more wealthy. The wealthy player starts with more money, gets double the income for passing GO, and moves more often. As they inevitably started winning, they’d act more aggressive, eat more snacks, mock their opponent, keep talking about their money. After the game they were asked why they won – and they’d talk about their own actions & strategy, rather than reflecting on the advantages given at the start.

The results from this can be extended to society as a whole – wealthier people are often less compassionate or empathetic, and more self interested. They also believe more in the ‘greed is good’ mentality. Some other experiments looked at this

  • Inviting people with high and low incomes and giving them $10 with the option to donate some of it to a stranger. The Poor (<$20k/yr) donated 44% more of their money than the rich (earn more than $150k/yr).
  • They also played dice games, and saw the wealthy were more likely to cheat to win a prize.
  • Another study had a jar of candy, specifically reserved for children, and monitored how much was stolen. Again, wealthy people took double the candy of the poor.
  • Study on traffic – a pedestrian approaches an intersection and cars are legally required to stop to let him cross. They looked at who stopped and who didn’t, finding that more expensive cars were more likely to break the law – with nearly half of the most expensive cars not stopping, and all of the cheaper cars stopping for the pedestrian.

These studies are not saying the only wealthy people are self-interested, or that they are like that all the time. Everyone at moments in life will need to put someone else’s  interests below their own, but wealthy people seem more comfortable with advancing themselves to the detriment of others.

Economic inequality has widened over the past 20 years. This should be a concern for everyone, not just those at the bottom. As inequality gets worse, social mobility, life expectancy, physical health, education all get worse too.

How do we combat these pernicious feelings of the wealthy? Small nudges can change a person’s values to be more egalitarian – to remind them of the importance of cooperation. A short video could make someone more willing to donate their time.

However, there are a number of movements and pledges among the wealthy – to donate their own money to those less fortunate. For example Bill Gates’ pledge to donate half his money, or ‘We are the 1%’ and other grassroots movements to donate their money to advocate social values. It may diminish their own interests but restore society.

My Thoughts

Interesting studies and results. It’s a talk that I’d usually be wary of, in being overly political, but the first half is about experiments proving the hypothesis that wealthy people are more self-interested. Makes me think that we should never get ungrateful for what we have – a stroke of luck may have turned your life into the rigged monopoly game, so we should stay respectful of those around us.

6 thoughts on “Paul Piff: Does money make you mean?

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