A Wealth of Insight

At the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, social psychologist Paul Piff paired off approximately 200 undergrad students and sent them into windowless rooms to play the board game Monopoly. With a random coin toss, one of the players in each game was selected to be the “rich” player, which granted them myriad advantages: they received twice the initial game money; they were entitled to double the normal bonus for passing “Go”; and they were allowed to roll two dice rather than one.

The altered rules made it clear to most participants that they were part of some kind of behavioral study, but they were unsure of its purpose, so they just played as instructed. With the use of hidden cameras, researchers observed that within 15 minutes, most of the rich players began to exhibit involuntary dominant behaviors. They slammed their game pieces more forcefully upon the board, made open displays of celebration, mocked the poor players for their misfortunes, and ate considerably more of the free pretzels on offer. But when they were interviewed after the game, the majority of the rich players tended to cite their own playing prowess for their victories, giving little or no credit to the initial, overwhelming, and randomly assigned economic advantage.

A related study by the same group of researchers took place in California, where the law requires drivers to stop for pedestrians waiting to cross at a crosswalk. The study showed that there is a strong inverse correlation between the expensiveness of an automobile and its driver’s tendency to yield to pedestrians.

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