Escaping the Wealth Trap
Social Psychologists at University of California, Irvine asked volunteers to play a game of monopoly; but they rigged the game. One player was given two dice rolls to the other players’ single dice. That advantaged player also received twice as much money upon passing “Go”. During the game, researchers noticed the richer player using more dominant body language, moving their piece noisily round the board, and taking more pretzels from a shared bowl in the middle of the table. These participants were then asked how they managed to succeed in the game. Little to no mention was made of the advantages they had, and focus they placed in the discussion was on the player’s skill. Who would want to play with a partner who behaves like that? And yet this is normal human behaviour at work; this is how the human mind processes our advantages.
In other social psychology studies, it seems that the poor are more strongly connected with their ability to be generous, even with relatively little wealth. Drivers of less expensive cars are more likely to stop for pedestrians at crossings; and those who considered themselves less wealthy took half as many candies from a jar that they were told were specifically for children. So it’s not as though the poor are immune from putting their interests above those of others; but wealth does seem to increase peoples’ chances of behaving selfishly.
Society recognised early on the negative impacts that wealth can have on a persons’ moral character. In medieval times, a code of chivalry arose amongst the wealthy; the “chevaliers”, or knights, who were pretty much the only people wealthy enough to own horses - “cheval” being the French, meaning “horse”. It emphasised fairness, and the protection of the weak and the poor; because it was understood that these chevaliers had the power to quickly end peoples’ lives or destroy their livelihoods by being thoughtless and uncaring.
In modern society we don’t have such an obvious cue to tell us whether we are wealthy or not, as just looking to see if we own a horse. So it might be good, if you haven’t done so recently, to check up you and your family’s financial resilience - use a budget to be sure you are living within your means. If you are not, make a plan to get there and don’t be afraid to seek help to do this. Using the knowledge that you have gained, remind yourself how lucky you are to be in control of your finances, or to have a plan to get them under control. That simple act of remembering your good fortune can help you reignite feelings of compassion and empathy towards others; so when life drops you a windfall, you can act confidently with generosity.