Does wealth make us mean?

Social psychologist Paul Piff, a Professor at University of California Berkeley, has done a large number of experiments to probe how wealth affects our behaviour. His studies include rigged games of monopoly, how people with expensive cars drive and whether wealth is more likely to make us take candy from kids.

In rigged games of monopoly, winners tended to attribute success to skill, completely ignoring how the odds were stacked in their favour. In the experiment with cars, Paul Piff found that drivers behind expensive cars were far less likely (than people driving inexpensive cars) to stop at a zebra crossing for pedestrians. And in the candy experiment, the rich had little compunction in stealing candy from kids.

Psychology experiments however are not like experiments in the hard sciences. They suggest how people behave in staged game settings.  Do the findings (of such experiments) point to fundamental truths about human behaviour? Are these findings reproducible?

In a famous study, Professor Brian Nosek at University of Virginia invited 270 of his peers to repeat 100 published psychology experiments. The findings of this study were unsettling for the field of experimental psychology: while 97% of the original experiments reported statistically significant results, only 36% of the replicated experiments did.

However, it does appear that wealth is correlated with being less empathetic, less giving, less compassionate and more likely to engage in unethical conduct. Cause and effect however have not been adequately studied. Do we become rich because we are selfish, or does money have the negative effect of altering our behaviour and thinking?

One thing seems to be clear though, the rich do live by a different set of rules. As F Scott Fitzgerald famously observed, “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me”.

Find out more about these studies at the links below:

The single biggest reason why startups succeed

Bill Gross – founder of IdeaLab, a business incubator focused on new ideas – wanted to know why startups succeed. He researched 200 companies, a 100 funded by his incubator and another 100. Bill’s research revealed that five factors drive startup success.

  1. Idea
  2. Team
  3. Funding
  4. Business model
  5. Timing

One of these factors, however, has a huge influence on business success. Which one do you think it is? My guess was ‘Team’. Listen to Bill Gross’ TED talk (6 minutes) and find out.

How much money do you save? It may depend on the language you speak!

Intriguing new research by Keith Chen, Associate Professor of Economics at the Anderson School of Management, UCLA,  reveals that how much we save is strongly linked to the language we speak.

Languages can be classified into two broad categories – ‘Futured’ and ‘Futureless’.

Futured languages treat the future very differently from the present or the past. In English for instance, the past, present and the future are clearly separated – I ran, I am running, I will run etc. Arabic, Hindi, Malyalam are also futured languages. Futureless languages do NOT make a clear distinction between the future and the past or present. Mandarin, Japanese, German, Danish are some of the futureless languages.

Speakers of futureless languages are 30% more likely to save in any year and will retire with 25% more savings than speakers of futured languages. Not only that, they are 20-25% less likely to smoke and 13-17% less likely to be obese. What’s smoking and obesity got to do with savings? Plenty. Smoking and over-eating are negative savings – the pleasure is today, the health expenses will be in the future.

I speak three futured languages (English, Punjabi, Hindi). It’s a triple whammy – whichever language I think in, the future is way too distant to bother about saving money today!

Keith Chen’s TED talk on the subject is fascinating. Do listen.

Why highly productive people work less?


Highly productive people do not work longer hours. In fact quite the contrary; on an average day they don’t even clock 8 hours. The secret (to productivity) it seems is frequent breaks. Take 15 minutes off every hour and see your productivity soar.

A growing body of research suggests that we have a finite pool of psychological energy. Work too long without a break and this pool of energy gets drained out. Schmooze with friends and colleagues every hour or so, over a coffee, and the pool of energy gets refreshed.

You know what to do now. Mail a copy of this FastCompany article article on the benefits of downtime to your boss. And bring some zing into your work life.

Are lying and nationality correlated?


Do people from some countries lie more than others? A research study across 1,000 participants from 16 countries has thrown up unexpected findings. Respondents were given the opportunity to secretly lie in order to win a beautifully wrapped Lindt chocolate. The countries ranged from Denmark, Finland and USA to Colombia, India, and Indonesia.

Transparency International’s corruption rankings of these countries vary widely – least corrupt are Denmark and Finland (at number 1 and 3) and most corrupt are Colombia and Indonesia (number 94 and 107). One would expect people from more corrupt countries to be more prone to lying but that does not appear to be the case.

Only 14% of the respondents lied to win a chocolate and the number was consistent across all the countries. The habit of lying, it seems, has nothing to do with nationality.