Poverty and compassion
di Courtney Clinton
A new American psychological study finds that people with low incomes are the most generous
Uncompassionate and stingy, Ebenezer Scrooge of Charles Dickens’ novel, A Christmas Carol, may just be the perfect archetype for the rich. Despite the generosity displayed earlier this month by American billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet a new study by Paul K. Piff, Psychology Researcher, University of California, Berkeley, found that the well off were in fact significantly less generous than their poorer counterparts.
According to the American newspaper the New York Times, the study reports that lower-income people are more generous, charitable, trusting and helpful to others than those who enjoy a higher income.
Why? According to Piff people with lower incomes are richer in “compassion and empathy.” He continues to say “wealth seems to buffer people from attending to the needs of others.”
His findings challenge a commonly held belief that people with lower incomes who face harsher conditions are more likely to act out of self interest.
But what about those who grew up poor and made their fortune later on in life? Piff also ran an experiment that sorted people by their families income, revealing that whether high status was inherited or earned made no difference.
115 participants were controlled for their ethnic background, sex, age, frequency of attendance to religious services and socioeconomic status. They were then asked to rank their educational, income and occupational status.
Each subject was given ten tokens, each represented a real nominal sum that they would be paid at the end of the experiment. They were next told that they had been matched with an unknown partner in another room, a stranger who they would never meet. They were asked how many if any of their tokens they would like to give to this stranger.
Two follow up activities were performed that confirmed first round findings that those with lower incomes were more generous.