Are wealth-motivated people less likely to help?

by on April 24, 2013 at 2:05 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

According to one recent study, no:

A new study with business students at Loyola University challenges this narrative. In contrast to the 2008 paper, Michael Babula‘s study measured actual behaviour. The fifty students completed questionnaires about their religiosity and desire for wealth, then they headed, one at a time, across the building to give a short presentation, either about careers for economics students or about the relevance of the Good Samaritan parable to their future career.

Before they headed over to give their speech, half were told to hurry, time was short; the others were told there was no rush. Then, just before they reached the lecture room, a distressed, anxious stranger approached them. This person had just heard news that a relative had had an accident, but now their mobile phone had run out of battery and they had no change for a public pay-phone. The key test was whether and how much each student would offer to help the stranger in distress.

Seventy-eight per cent of the business students offered some kind of help to the stranger. Sixty-six per cent went so far as refusing to leave the stranger or giving him/her their mobile phone. The degree to which the students reported being wealth-driven was not associated with their levels of helping. Neither was their self-reported willingness to accept an illegal stock trading tip off. Being in a hurry also made no difference, neither did the content of the speech they were about to give. A factor that was linked with helping behaviour was “intrinsic religiosity” – that is, pursuing religion as an end in itself, not for the sake of status or other gain.

You will note this is a small sample and just a single experiment.

Frederic Mari April 24, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Also that the situation is serious and the help asked relatively inconsequential. I too would lend my mobile phone to the guy. I would probably hesitate a bit if he told me his relative had an accident in some remote foreign country likely to charge an arm and a leg for the conversation…

… and I am rather not the type of guy to believe in charity and stuff.

jmo April 24, 2013 at 3:34 pm

pursuing religion as an end in itself, not for the sake of status or other gain.

And certainly not because of the promise of enternal life or anything…

Jan April 24, 2013 at 3:49 pm

In other news, upper-class people are more likely to lie, cheat, endorse unethical workplace behavior and to cut others off when driving: http://www.pnas.org/content/109/11/4086

j r April 24, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Weren’t those studies debunked?

Jan April 24, 2013 at 7:19 pm

I don’t know. Show me what you mean.

JWatts April 25, 2013 at 10:12 am

Yes, pretty much. The ‘studies’ were very limited and as far as I know the results were never replicated.

sl April 25, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Here is the letter wherein the debunking. http://www.pnas.org/content/109/25/E1587.full.pdf

sl April 25, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Also, I would think that this new study suffers from the same problem as the other study. It shows little until it is replicated by a skeptic.

Nathan April 24, 2013 at 3:50 pm

I wish they had picked a test that didn’t sound exactly like the last few times someone has tried to scam me for money. I’d worry that this is more of a gullibility test than anything.

Molloy April 24, 2013 at 5:50 pm

I thought the same thing. Perhaps those who didn’t help were the ones who saw the acting job of the person supposedly in distress for what it was.

Oreg April 25, 2013 at 6:56 am

+1

JKB April 24, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Well, I suggest they try to measure the student’s exposure to parking lot scams because that was what the description of the person in distress sounds like. I suppose as long as they leave it to needing to make a call and not progress to cash for transport it wouldn’t be a big impact. But that scenario sent my awareness up.

Honza April 24, 2013 at 4:15 pm

I’m extremely skeptical if these so-called experiments add anything to our understanding or whether it’s just social “scientists” having nothing better to do than trying hard to be like real scientists.

msgkings April 24, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Thread winner.

j r April 24, 2013 at 4:17 pm

I don’t know how big of a deal the scam concerns are if this is all happening on a college campus and the distressed person is another college student. There is a tremendous amount of pre-selection at work in that case.

john personna April 24, 2013 at 5:14 pm

It sounds like students could self-report both being very money oriented, and being very non-money (religiosity) oriented. To the extent that the second is true, it undermines the first, and Tyler’s “no.”

JWatts April 25, 2013 at 10:17 am

I wouldn’t necessarily equate being very non-money with religiosity. Those issues aren’t diametrically opposed.

Edward Lambert April 24, 2013 at 7:57 pm

The wealthy had better start giving. I have just found the graph that sounds the alarm that inequality is going to kill us. Inequality of income is progressively killing the Fed funds rate. And if labor share of income continues to decline, the economy will collapse. The Fed funds rate will lose all traction permanently. here is the link… just posted.

http://effectivedemand.typepad.com/ed/2013/04/the-progressive-death-of-the-fed-funds-rate.html

Scott April 25, 2013 at 9:43 am
Jeff April 25, 2013 at 12:20 pm

It would be interesting also to observe whether there is a dependence on the distressed stranger’s appearance or behavior. Does he look like another student, or like a homeless drug addict?

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