by Michael Mechanic, The Atlantic Magazine, 4/4/21.
…More than a decade ago, as a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of the UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner, Piff used a series of rigged Monopoly games to see how people would respond to being placed randomly into a position of privilege. Some 200 student volunteers were pitted against one another. The “rich” player was given twice as much cash as the “poor” player, collected twice as much money when passing Go, and passed Go more often, because he got to roll two dice while the poorer player got only one. (Richie Rich also got the most popular playing piece, the little car, while his opponent received the undesirable boot.)
As the games progressed, rich players became more and more cocksure. They spoke louder, moved their pieces more aggressively, and even consumed more pretzels from bowls that the researchers had put out as part of the experiment. “We had little gradients on the table where you could measure how much space a person is taking up from when they began to when they ended,” Piff told me. “The richer players began to take up more room. They got bigger as they got richer.”
The Monopoly experiment wasn’t the most rigorous science ever, and Piff never published the results, although the study was later replicated by others and referenced in Piff’s popular TED Talk, “Does Money Make You Mean?” But his observations were consistent with a large body of social science finding that people of higher socioeconomic status, compared with those lower down the ladder, are more prone to entitlement and narcissistic behavior. Wealthier subjects also tend to be more self-oriented and more willing to behave unethically in their own self-interest (to lie during negotiations, say, or to steal from an employer). In one study, Piff and his colleagues stationed a pedestrian at the edge of a busy crosswalk and watched to see which cars would let the person cross. Suffice it to say that Fords and Subarus were far more likely to stop than Mercedeses and BMWs.