Money Might Change Your Wallet — And Your Very Nature

Having money can make you callous and uncaring. For the TED Radio Hour, University of California Berkeley psychologist Paul Piff explains the research to back up this conclusion.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Think about coming into a lot of money - billions of dollars. It'd change your life. It might also change you - the way you think about yourself, the way you treat others. Guy Raz, host of the TED Radio Hour, has more.

GUY RAZ: Paul Piff is a psychologist at Berkeley, and he studies how having more money can actually make you act more entitled and kind of less nice. Here he is on the TED stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

PAUL PIFF: I want you to, for a moment, think about playing a game of Monopoly, except this game's been rigged. And you've got the upper hand. How might that experience change the way that you think about yourself and that other player? We ran a study on the UC-Berkeley campus to look at exactly that question.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Is it my roll?

PIFF: With the flip of a coin...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'll buy it.

PIFF: We randomly assigned one of the two to be a rich player in a rigged game.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'm going to build.

PIFF: They got two times as much money, and they got to move around the board a lot more. The rich player started to move around the board louder - literally, smacking the board with their piece as he went around. And when the rich players talked about why they'd inevitably won in this rigged game of Monopoly, they talked about what they'd done to earn their success in the game. What we've been finding across dozens of studies across this country is that as a person's levels of wealth increase, their feelings of compassion and empathy go down and their ideology of self-interest increases.

RAZ: OK, but how does that happen? I mean, how does money change you. Like say you come into a lot of it when you're like 50, you know, what would happen?

PIFF: Well, it would, for one, mean that you could afford a bigger home where the people in your family would all occupy separate bedrooms. You'll have a bigger yard potentially or more space between your house and other people's homes. When you go to work, you may be less likely to take that bus or that carpool. In all sorts of different ways, wealth affords you space from others. You become less attuned to other people in your environment, less cooperative, less charitable, a whole slew of other things.

RAZ: When you think about your own research, is a part of you sort of like disappointed in human behavior?

PIFF: Disappointment's not necessarily the right word because I think a lot of the effects that we're documenting are understandable. And what's important to recognize is that there are a lot of other things that shape how compassionate and altruistic and generous a person is - their ethnicity, the social groups they belong to, how they were raised. Money is one of those factors, but it's not the only one.

SIMON: Paul Piff, psychologist at the University of California-Berkeley. He spoke with Guy Raz, the host of the TED Radio Hour. This is NPR News.

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