Brilliant: Elites are more likely selfish and less equality minded

17 Sep

Who, me? Share?

A new study published in Science Magazine demonstrates something you might very well have predicted, elite individuals place greater value on themselves in general, and when there is cost involved in sharing, they are more likely to ‘charge’ that cost to others.

Somehow this article reminds me of a similar look into the way that drivers of ‘valuable’ cars tend to ignore laws regarding yielding to pedestrians than drivers of less valuable cars described in my ‘Greed is Good‘ blog article.

In the current study, three groups of individuals were asked to play the dictator game. This is a simple ‘game’ where one person is given all the power and then asked how much they want to share. It is typically done with food for children and animals (chimps) or money for adults. Here is the game explained:

In this article, the three groups were Yale Law Students (Labeled as ‘elites’), Berkeley Undergrads (Labeled as ‘intermediate elites’) and a group of randomized Americans. Each group was assessed in two ways, first was their generosity: How fairly did they share?

They were classified as either ‘fair-minded’, ‘intermediate’, or ‘selfish’

Second, was how their generosity was affected by adding a cost to sharing.

This classified them as either ‘equality-focused’ if they split the cost of sharing evenly or ‘efficiency-focused’ meaning that they charged the cost of sharing to the one being shared with.

Here are the data:

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 9.41.52 PM

Interestingly, it appears that the ‘Intermediate Elite’ were the most selfish – although both elite groups were much more selfish than the ‘American Adults’. But, when charged a price to share, the Law Students were the most likely to pass that cost along.

In general though, I see both groups of elites acting a lot like todlers…

Here’s an example of the game being played with a two year old girl and her dad using goldfish crackers.

What I would like to say is, hey – those of you for whom life is going pretty well, don’t forget to share a little – oh, and yield for pedestrians.


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Posted by on September 17, 2015 in Uncategorized


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