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TEDxMarin

Paul Piff: Does money make you mean?

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It's amazing what a rigged game of Monopoly can reveal. In this entertaining but sobering talk, social psychologist Paul Piff shares his research into how people behave when they feel wealthy. (Hint: badly.) But while the problem of inequality is a complex and daunting challenge, there's good news too.

- Social psychologist
Paul Piff studies how social hierarchy, inequality and emotion shape relations between individuals and groups. Full bio

I want you to, for a moment,
00:12
think about playing a game of Monopoly,
00:14
except in this game, that combination
00:18
of skill, talent and luck
00:21
that help earn you success in games, as in life,
00:24
has been rendered irrelevant,
00:26
because this game's been rigged,
00:28
and you've got the upper hand.
00:30
You've got more money,
00:32
more opportunities to move around the board,
00:34
and more access to resources.
00:36
And as you think about that experience,
00:39
I want you to ask yourself,
00:40
how might that experience of being
00:43
a privileged player in a rigged game
00:44
change the way that you think about yourself
00:48
and regard that other player?
00:50
So we ran a study on the U.C. Berkeley campus
00:54
to look at exactly that question.
00:57
We brought in more than 100 pairs
01:00
of strangers into the lab,
01:01
and with the flip of a coin
01:04
randomly assigned one of the two
01:06
to be a rich player in a rigged game.
01:08
They got two times as much money.
01:10
When they passed Go,
01:13
they collected twice the salary,
01:14
and they got to roll both dice instead of one,
01:17
so they got to move around the board a lot more.
01:19
(Laughter)
01:20
And over the course of 15 minutes,
01:23
we watched through hidden
cameras what happened.
01:25
And what I want to do today, for the first time,
01:29
is show you a little bit of what we saw.
01:30
You're going to have to pardon the sound quality,
01:33
in some cases, because again,
these were hidden cameras.
01:34
So we've provided subtitles.
01:37
Rich Player: How many 500s did you have?
01:39
Poor Player: Just one.
01:41
Rich Player: Are you serious.
Poor Player: Yeah.
01:42
Rich Player: I have three. (Laughs)
01:43
I don't know why they gave me so much.
01:45
Paul Piff: Okay, so it was quickly apparent to players
01:47
that something was up.
01:49
One person clearly has a lot more money
01:50
than the other person, and yet,
01:52
as the game unfolded,
01:54
we saw very notable differences
01:56
and dramatic differences begin to emerge
01:58
between the two players.
02:01
The rich player
02:03
started to move around the board louder,
02:05
literally smacking the board with their piece
02:07
as he went around.
02:09
We were more likely to see signs of dominance
02:12
and nonverbal signs,
02:15
displays of power
02:16
and celebration among the rich players.
02:19
We had a bowl of pretzels
positioned off to the side.
02:23
It's on the bottom right corner there.
02:25
That allowed us to watch
participants' consummatory behavior.
02:27
So we're just tracking how
many pretzels participants eat.
02:31
Rich Player: Are those pretzels a trick?
02:35
Poor Player: I don't know.
02:37
PP: Okay, so no surprises, people are onto us.
02:39
They wonder what that bowl of pretzels
02:42
is doing there in the first place.
02:44
One even asks, like you just saw,
02:45
is that bowl of pretzels there as a trick?
02:47
And yet, despite that, the power of the situation
02:50
seems to inevitably dominate,
02:53
and those rich players start to eat more pretzels.
02:56
Rich Player: I love pretzels.
03:03
(Laughter)
03:06
PP: And as the game went on,
03:09
one of the really interesting and dramatic patterns
03:12
that we observed begin to emerge
03:14
was that the rich players actually
03:17
started to become ruder toward the other person,
03:19
less and less sensitive to the plight
03:22
of those poor, poor players,
03:24
and more and more demonstrative
03:26
of their material success,
03:28
more likely to showcase how well they're doing.
03:30
Rich Player: I have money for everything.
03:35
Poor Player: How much is that?
03:39
Rich Player: You owe me 24 dollars.
03:41
You're going to lose all your money soon.
03:45
I'll buy it. I have so much money.
03:48
I have so much money, it takes me forever.
03:50
Rich Player 2: I'm going to buy out this whole board.
03:52
Rich Player 3: You're going
to run out of money soon.
03:54
I'm pretty much untouchable at this point.
03:55
PP: Okay, and here's what I think
03:58
was really, really interesting,
04:01
is that at the end of the 15 minutes,
04:02
we asked the players to talk about
their experience during the game.
04:06
And when the rich players talked about
04:10
why they had inevitably won
04:12
in this rigged game of Monopoly --
04:14
(Laughter) —
04:16
they talked about what they'd done
04:21
to buy those different properties
04:24
and earn their success in the game,
04:27
and they became far less attuned
04:30
to all those different features of the situation,
04:32
including that flip of a coin
04:35
that had randomly gotten them into
04:38
that privileged position in the first place.
04:40
And that's a really, really incredible insight
04:43
into how the mind makes sense of advantage.
04:46
Now this game of Monopoly can be used
04:51
as a metaphor for understanding society
04:54
and its hierarchical structure, wherein some people
04:56
have a lot of wealth and a lot of status,
05:00
and a lot of people don't.
05:02
They have a lot less wealth and a lot less status
05:04
and a lot less access to valued resources.
05:07
And what my colleagues and I for
the last seven years have been doing
05:10
is studying the effects of these kinds of hierarchies.
05:13
What we've been finding across dozens of studies
05:17
and thousands of participants across this country
05:20
is that as a person's levels of wealth increase,
05:24
their feelings of compassion and empathy go down,
05:28
and their feelings of entitlement, of deservingness,
05:34
and their ideology of self-interest increases.
05:38
In surveys, we found that it's actually
05:43
wealthier individuals who are more likely
05:45
to moralize greed being good,
05:47
and that the pursuit of self-interest
05:50
is favorable and moral.
05:52
Now what I want to do today is talk about
05:54
some of the implications
of this ideology self-interest,
05:56
talk about why we should
care about those implications,
06:01
and end with what might be done.
06:03
Some of the first studies that we ran in this area
06:07
looked at helping behavior,
06:09
something social psychologists call
06:10
pro-social behavior.
06:13
And we were really interested in who's more likely
06:15
to offer help to another person,
06:17
someone who's rich or someone who's poor.
06:20
In one of the studies, we bring in rich and poor
06:23
members of the community into the lab
06:27
and give each of them the equivalent of 10 dollars.
06:30
We told the participants
06:33
that they could keep these 10 dollars for themselves,
06:35
or they could share a portion of it,
06:37
if they wanted to, with a stranger
06:39
who is totally anonymous.
06:41
They'll never meet that stranger and
the stranger will never meet them.
06:43
And we just monitor how much people give.
06:46
Individuals who made 25,000 sometimes
06:49
under 15,000 dollars a year,
06:51
gave 44 percent more of their money
06:54
to the stranger
06:56
than did individuals making 150,000
06:57
or 200,000 dollars a year.
06:59
We've had people play games
07:02
to see who's more or less likely to cheat
07:05
to increase their chances of winning a prize.
07:08
In one of the games, we actually rigged a computer
07:10
so that die rolls over a certain score
07:13
were impossible.
07:16
You couldn't get above 12 in this game,
07:17
and yet, the richer you were,
07:20
the more likely you were to cheat in this game
07:23
to earn credits toward a $50 cash prize,
07:25
sometimes by three to four times as much.
07:29
We ran another study where we looked at whether
07:32
people would be inclined to take candy
07:35
from a jar of candy that we explicitly identified
07:38
as being reserved for children --
07:40
(Laughter) —
07:43
participating -- I'm not kidding.
07:46
I know it sounds like I'm making a joke.
07:48
We explicitly told participants
07:51
this jar of candy's for children participating
07:53
in a developmental lab nearby.
07:55
They're in studies. This is for them.
07:57
And we just monitored how
much candy participants took.
07:59
Participants who felt rich
08:03
took two times as much candy
08:04
as participants who felt poor.
08:06
We've even studied cars,
08:09
not just any cars,
08:12
but whether drivers of different kinds of cars
08:13
are more or less inclined to break the law.
08:16
In one of these studies, we looked at
08:20
whether drivers would stop for a pedestrian
08:22
that we had posed waiting to cross at a crosswalk.
08:27
Now in California, as you all know,
08:29
because I'm sure we all do this,
08:31
it's the law to stop for a pedestrian
who's waiting to cross.
08:34
So here's an example of how we did it.
08:38
That's our confederate off to the left
08:40
posing as a pedestrian.
08:42
He approaches as the red truck successfully stops.
08:43
In typical California fashion, it's overtaken
08:48
by the bus who almost runs our pedestrian over.
08:50
(Laughter)
08:52
Now here's an example of a more expensive car,
08:54
a Prius, driving through,
08:56
and a BMW doing the same.
08:57
So we did this for hundreds of vehicles
09:03
on several days,
09:05
just tracking who stops and who doesn't.
09:08
What we found was that as the expensiveness
09:12
of a car increased,
09:14
the driver's tendencies to break the law
09:18
increased as well.
09:20
None of the cars, none of the cars
09:22
in our least expensive car category
09:24
broke the law.
09:28
Close to 50 percent of the cars
09:29
in our most expensive vehicle category
09:32
broke the law.
09:34
We've run other studies finding that
09:37
wealthier individuals are more
likely to lie in negotiations,
09:39
to endorse unethical behavior at work
09:42
like stealing cash from the cash register,
09:44
taking bribes, lying to customers.
09:47
Now I don't mean to suggest
09:52
that it's only wealthy people
09:54
who show these patterns of behavior.
09:55
Not at all. In fact, I think that we all,
09:57
in our day-to-day, minute-by-minute lives,
10:00
struggle with these competing motivations
10:03
of when, or if, to put our own interests
10:06
above the interests of other people.
10:09
And that's understandable because
10:12
the American dream is an idea
10:14
in which we all have an equal opportunity
10:16
to succeed and prosper,
10:20
as long as we apply ourselves and work hard,
10:22
and a piece of that means that sometimes,
10:24
you need to put your own interests
10:27
above the interests and well-being
of other people around you.
10:30
But what we're finding is that,
10:33
the wealthier you are, the more likely you are
10:36
to pursue a vision of personal success,
10:38
of achievement and accomplishment,
10:41
to the detriment of others around you.
10:43
Here I've plotted for you the mean household income
10:46
received by each fifth and top
five percent of the population
10:49
over the last 20 years.
10:53
In 1993, the differences between the different
10:55
quintiles of the population, in terms of income,
10:57
are fairly egregious.
11:00
It's not difficult to discern that there are differences.
11:03
But over the last 20 years, that significant difference
11:06
has become a grand canyon of sorts
11:09
between those at the top and everyone else.
11:11
In fact, the top 20 percent of our population
11:14
own close to 90 percent of the
total wealth in this country.
11:18
We're at unprecedented levels
11:21
of economic inequality.
11:23
What that means is that wealth is not only becoming
11:27
increasingly concentrated in the hands
of a select group of individuals,
11:29
but the American dream is becoming
11:34
increasingly unattainable
11:36
for an increasing majority of us.
11:38
And if it's the case, as we've been finding,
11:41
that the wealthier you are,
11:44
the more entitled you feel to that wealth,
11:46
and the more likely you are
to prioritize your own interests
11:48
above the interests of other people,
11:51
and be willing to do things to serve that self-interest,
11:53
well then there's no reason to think
11:57
that those patterns will change.
11:58
In fact, there's every reason to think
12:00
that they'll only get worse,
12:02
and that's what it would look like
if things just stayed the same,
12:04
at the same linear rate, over the next 20 years.
12:07
Now, inequality, economic inequality,
12:11
is something we should all be concerned about,
12:14
and not just because of those at the bottom
12:16
of the social hierarchy,
12:19
but because individuals and groups
12:20
with lots of economic inequality do worse,
12:22
not just the people at the bottom, everyone.
12:28
There's a lot of really compelling research
12:30
coming out from top labs all over the world
12:33
showcasing the range of things
12:35
that are undermined
12:38
as economic inequality gets worse.
12:40
Social mobility, things we really care about,
12:43
physical health, social trust,
12:45
all go down as inequality goes up.
12:48
Similarly, negative things
12:51
in social collectives and societies,
12:53
things like obesity, and violence,
12:55
imprisonment, and punishment,
12:57
are exacerbated as economic inequality increases.
12:59
Again, these are outcomes not just experienced
13:03
by a few, but that resound
13:06
across all strata of society.
13:08
Even people at the top experience these outcomes.
13:10
So what do we do?
13:13
This cascade of self-perpetuating,
13:17
pernicious, negative effects
13:20
could seem like something that's spun out of control,
13:23
and there's nothing we can do about it,
13:26
certainly nothing we as individuals could do.
13:28
But in fact, we've been finding
13:31
in our own laboratory research
13:35
that small psychological interventions,
13:38
small changes to people's values,
13:43
small nudges in certain directions,
13:46
can restore levels of egalitarianism and empathy.
13:49
For instance, reminding people
13:53
of the benefits of cooperation,
13:55
or the advantages of community,
13:57
cause wealthier individuals to be just as egalitarian
14:00
as poor people.
14:04
In one study, we had people watch a brief video,
14:07
just 46 seconds long, about childhood poverty
14:10
that served as a reminder of the needs of others
14:14
in the world around them,
14:17
and after watching that,
14:19
we looked at how willing people were
14:21
to offer up their own time to a stranger
14:23
presented to them in the lab who was in distress.
14:27
After watching this video, an hour later,
14:30
rich people became just as generous
14:34
of their own time to help out this other person,
14:36
a stranger, as someone who's poor,
14:38
suggesting that these differences are not
14:41
innate or categorical,
14:43
but are so malleable
14:45
to slight changes in people's values,
14:47
and little nudges of compassion
14:49
and bumps of empathy.
14:51
And beyond the walls of our lab,
14:53
we're even beginning to see
signs of change in society.
14:54
Bill Gates, one of our nation's wealthiest individuals,
14:58
in his Harvard commencement speech,
15:02
talked about the problem facing society
15:03
of inequality as being the most daunting challenge,
15:05
and talked about what must be done to combat it,
15:09
saying, "Humanity's greatest advances
15:11
are not in its discoveries,
15:15
but in how those discoveries are applied
15:17
to reduce inequity."
15:20
And there's the Giving Pledge,
15:23
in which more than 100 of our nation's
15:25
wealthiest individuals
15:27
are pledging half of their fortunes to charity.
15:29
And there's the emergence
15:33
of dozens of grassroots movements,
15:35
like We are the One Percent,
15:39
the Resource Generation,
15:41
or Wealth for Common Good,
15:43
in which the most privileged
15:45
members of the population,
15:47
members of the one percent and elsewhere,
15:49
people who are wealthy,
15:52
are using their own economic resources,
15:54
adults and youth alike, that's
what's most striking to me,
15:57
leveraging their own privilege,
16:01
their own economic resources,
16:03
to combat inequality
16:05
by advocating for social policies,
16:08
changes in social values,
16:11
and changes in people's behavior,
16:13
that work against their own economic interests
16:15
but that may ultimately restore the American dream.
16:18
Thank you.
16:23
(Applause)
16:25

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About the speaker:

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

Why you should listen

Paul Piff is an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California, Irvine.​ In particular, he studies how wealth (having it or not having it) can affect interpersonal relationships.

His surprising studies include running rigged games of Monopoly, tracking how those who drive expensive cars behave versus those driving less expensive vehicles and even determining that rich people are literally more likely to take candy from children than the less well-off. The results often don't paint a pretty picture about the motivating forces of wealth. He writes, "specifically, I have been finding that increased wealth and status in society lead to increased self-focus and, in turn, decreased compassion, altruism, and ethical behavior."

More profile about the speaker
Paul Piff | Speaker | TED.com