Looking at luxury turns people callous, or worse
Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-11-26
A Harvard Business School research paper shows that exposure, even just "priming" (such as happens after exposure to advertising) may not turn people into arseholes… but just not give a shit about others.
So perhaps there is something in the right-wing shock-jock accusation about lefty ABC viewers. By non-exposure to commercials for up-market goods, or to tabloid journalism about celebrities that often prime viewers and readers with the luxuries of the celebrities, ABC viewers do not have their concern for the plight of others extinguished.
"The Devil Wears Prada? Effects of Exposure to Luxury Goods on Cognition and Decision Making" (2009-11-25) announces the research paper by Roy Y.J. Chua and Xi Zou that includes the following in the abstract:
This paper demonstrates that exposure to luxury goods increases individuals’ propensity to prioritize self-interests over others’ interests, influencing the decisions they make. Experiment 1 found that participants primed with luxury goods were more likely than those primed with non-luxury goods to endorse business decisions that benefit themselves but could potentially harm others. Using a word recognition task, Experiment 2 further demonstrates that exposure to luxury is likely to activate self-interest but not necessarily the tendency to harm others. Implications of these findings were discussed.
It provides experimental truths for the phenomenon shown in Citizen Kane, the man motivated to expose corruption and injustice who is gradually poisoned into callousness by wealth.
It fits in well with my post that got some libertarians quite riled ("Left "sensibilities", Right "social autism"" 2009-09-28), at least among those who don’t get constantly primed, watch the ABC, don’t notice the ads in the papers, are smart enough to run Firefox with the adblocker plugin.
What was the saying about it being harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than a camel pass through the eye of a needle?
More from the abstract:
- Luxury does not necessarily induce people to be “nasty” toward others but rather causes them to be less concerned about or considerate toward others.
- Experiment 1 showed that when primed with luxury, people are more likely to endorse self-interested business decisions (profit maximization), even at the expense of others.
- Experiment 2 further demonstrated that exposure to luxury is likely to activate self-interest but not the tendency to harm others.
- Exposure to luxury goods may activate a social norm that it is appropriate to pursue interests beyond a basic comfort level, even at the expense of others. It may be this activated social norm that affects people’s judgment and decision-making.
- Alternatively, exposure to luxury may directly increase people’s personal desire, causing them to focus on their own benefits such as prioritizing profits over social responsibilities.