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How Wealth Breeds Narcissism

Posted on Aug 26, 2013
Images_of_Money (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In the words of Pink Floyd, “Money, it’s a crime. Share it fairly, but don’t take a slice of my pie.”

Though it may already seem obvious that richer people are generally more entitled than poorer ones, a new study reveals there’s psychological evidence to support this assessment. A common misconception is that the more one has, the more one wants to give back—to charities, family, etc. It seems quite the opposite is true. As people grow increasingly privileged and amass wealth, they lose interest in others as they become convinced they are far more deserving than the rest. The five experiments performed by Paul Piff at UC Berkeley demonstrate the correlation between wealth and narcissism, according to PsyPost:

The first experiment consisted of a survey that measured levels of entitlement and socioeconomic status. Piff found higher social class was associated with an increased sense of entitlement. Upper-class individuals were more likely to believe they deserved special treatment and feel entitled to “more of everything.” They were also more likely to believe that if they were on the Titanic, they would deserve to be on the first lifeboat.

In the second and third experiments, Piff used other surveys with different measures of entitlement and socioeconomic status to confirm his initial findings.

In the fourth experiment, Piff discovered that upper-class individuals were more likely to look at their own reflections in a mirror, even when controlling for self-consciousness. The final experiment found that exposing upper-class individuals to egalitarian values reduced entitlement and decreased narcissism.

This self-obsession goes beyond wasting away before the mirror; it can have a dire effect on society. As Piff and psychologist Madeline Levine tell Time with regard to the study:

“You have this bifurcation of rich and poor,” says Levine. “The rich are increasingly entitled, and since they set the cultural tone for advertising and all those kinds of things, I think there’s a pervasive sense of entitlement.”

That could perpetuate a deepening lack of empathy that could fuel narcissistic tendencies. “You could imagine negative attitudes toward wealth redistribution as a result of entitlement,” says Piff. “The more severe inequality becomes, the more entitled people may feel and the less likely to share those resources they become.”

The study, “Wealth and the Inflated Self: Class, Entitlement, and Narcissism,” however, may hold the key to minimizing self-involvement among members of the 1 percent. The last experiment’s results suggest, according to Piff, “their narcissism is neither innate nor fixed. When wealthier participants in one study were asked to think about three benefits of treating others as equals, they subsequently became less narcissistic. Egalitarian values can reduce narcissism.”

There you have it. Turns out neither money nor love is all you need; it’s empathy.

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi


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