Does Having More Money Make You a Jerk?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — You're a waiter with two men seated at separate tables in your section. One is wearing a dark suit with an expensive watch and tapping away on his cell phone, while the other shows up in a battered Toyota, wears board shorts and asks if he can get a basket with some extra bread. To whom should you pay more attention to get a better tip? The surprising answer, according to new research from Berkeley psychologist Paul Piff, is Table Two. He may order the specials and ignore the wine list, but the data says your poor guy will probably leave more money on the table at the end of the meal.

He also likely gives more to charity, stays more faithful in relationships and plays a pleasant game of Monopoly. Piff calls this phenomenon "the Asshole Effect," and it helps explain why some American politicians are so happy to divide the world among "makers" and "takers."

Piff, a 32-year-old researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, found that "as people grow wealthier, they are more likely to feel entitled, to become meaner and be more likely to exploit others, even to cheat," according to The Guardian's Anne Manne.

Piff's results have been dismissed as liberal nonsense and leftist propaganda for implicitly suggesting redistribution, but Piff stands by his data.

"Would I be less excited if we found that higher-status people were more generous?" he said in an interview with New York magazine. "I'd probably be less excited, but that's not what we found."

To uncover the Asshole Effect, Piff and his team conducted a series of increasingly specific experiments. At the most basic level, his researchers staked out intersections and tracked the behavior of drivers according to their model of car, ranked 1-5 from least to most expensive. Those behind the wheels of an expensive car were four times more likely to behave badly, cutting off others and blowing past pedestrians at a crosswalk.