What the One Percent Make Up in Wealth, They Completely Lack in Empathy – A Study Finds


What the One Percent Make Up in Wealth, They Completely Lack in Empathy – A Study Finds

Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

It is no denying it that the top one percent are rich. What’s less known however is that they’re getting richer and richer. In fact, just last year, the top 62 wealthiest people held more money together than the lower half of the world combined. And we have to realize that money in the world, though there is a lot of it, is finite. And while some people hoard immensely large sums of money in bank accounts, and never putting it back into the economy, most others go without, and have to struggle for whatever “crumbs” are left.

Moreover, psychologists at New York University have developed a series of experiments which measured the interest of its participants in other people’s lives. Similar to other such studies before it, researchers came to the conclusion that those better off, paid very little attention, if any, to those less financially stable than themselves.


These results, though not necessarily surprising in themselves, have to be taken into consideration at a much larger scale. Though we would like to believe that we live in a democratic society, the ever-increasing gap between the rich and the poor, with the middle class becoming narrower and narrower, is pushing us back in terms of our social and economic development.This big discrepancy in wealth is more resemblant of feudal times than democratic ones. Even the former president of the United States,Jimmy Carter, said in an interview that the country has become an oligarchy, ruled by an elite few, rather than by the collective decision of its citizens.

The empathy experiment

The experiment was conducted on 61 participants who were asked to walk around Brooklyn, New York while wearing Google Glass. These are normal-looking eye-wear which have te capability of recording everything that the wearer is looking at. The participants were obviously not told about this fact, and instead were told that they were merely testing the technology.

via thesocietypages.org
via thesocietypages.org

When the walking tour was over, each participant had to fill out a form which determined their social class. Those who were wealthier, the study found, spent less time looking at other people on the street and more time looking at their overall surroundings.

Another follow-up study was designed to look for the same thing but in a different setting. This time, participants were put to watch various photos from Google Street view. And by using eye-tracking technology, the results came out the same – those wealthier spent less time looking at other people in the images.

If this was an unconscious response, or if the participants consciously avoided looking at other people, was still unknown. To put this to the test, researchers recruited 400 participants for an online survey. Alternating pairs of almost identical pictures flashed for a second in front of them, and they were asked to hit a button every time they felt confident they spotted a difference between them. These pictures were of various objects such as fruits, appliances, and of course, human faces.

Those participants who identified themselves as less-wealthy than the others had a much higher success rate at identifying subtle differences when it came to human faces than the others.These results were then published in the journal Psychological Science.

“Across field, lab, and online studies, our research documents that other humans are more likely to capture the attention of lower-class individuals than the attention of higher-class individuals,” says psychological scientist Pia Dietze of New York University. “Like other cultural groups, social class affects information processing in a pervasive and spontaneous manner.”

One possible answer to these results, as psychologists put it, is that wealthier people have the financial means to pay others and to delegate their problems, and are thus less dependent on others for, socially speaking. In a sense, they pay others to solve their problems. So, wealthy people are less likely to categorize others as rewarding or threatening since they pay little attention to others; even if they belong to the same social class.

These results seem to indicate that the one percent have a lack of empathy towards the rest of society, and the problem of the ever-increasing gap between the rich and poor will most likely not come from their end.

“Our work contributes to a growing knowledge base around the influence of social class background on psychological functioning,” says Dietze. “The more we know about the effect of social class differences, the better we can address widespread societal issues — this research is just one piece of the puzzle.”

One possible solution

As the famous author, philosopher and television presenter, Alain de Botton, believes, this change can’t come from the one percent, but rather from the rest of us. He believes that society itself, we included, should change its perspective of what’s actually important in life.

In today’s world, money and wealth are the biggest forms of prestige, respect, honor, and self-importance a person can have. And these things, more than money itself, are what the rich really want. By shifting importance from wealth itself, as a direct link to honor and respect, to something which would benefit humanity and the planet as a whole, everybody will only stand to gain; the one percent included. Gaining honor through philanthropy is one such good example. Having your name forever engrained in history for your well-doings is another.

This video below perfectly explains this beneficial solution.