The term "affluenza" -- a portmanteau of affluence and influenza, defined as a "painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste, resulting from the dogged pursuit of more" -- is often dismissed as a silly buzzword created to express our cultural disdain for consumerism. Though often used in jest, the term may have more truth than many of us would like to think.
Affluenza was even used as a defense in a recent, highly publicized drunk driving trial in Texas, where a 16-year-old boy claimed that his family's wealth should exempt him from responsibility for the deaths of four people. The boy got off with 10 years' probation and therapy (which his family will pay for), angering many for what they saw as the law's unfair leniency.
Psychologist G. Dick Miller, who acted as an expert witness for the defense, argued that the boy was suffering from affluenza, which may have kept him from comprehending the full consequence of his actions.
“I wish I had not used that term,” Miller later told CNN. “Everyone seems to have hooked on to it.”
Whether affluenza is real or imagined, money really does change everything, as the song goes -- and those of high social class do tend to see themselves much differently than others. Wealth (and the pursuit of it) has been linked with immoral behavior -- and not just in movies like The Wolf of Wall Street. Psychologists who study the impact of wealth and inequality on human behavior have found that money can powerfully influence our thoughts and actions in ways that we're often not aware of, no matter our economic circumstances. Although wealth is certainly subjective, most of the current research measures wealth on scales of income, job status or measures of socioeconomic circumstances, like educational attainment and intergenerational wealth.
Here are seven things you should know about the psychology of money and wealth.
More money, less empathy?
Several studies have shown that wealth may be at odds with empathy and compassion. Research published in the journal Psychological Science also found that people of lower economic status were better at reading others' facial expressions -- an important marker of empathy -- than wealthier people.
“A lot of what we see is a baseline orientation for the lower class to be more empathetic and the upper class to be less [so],” study co-author Michael Kraus told TIME. “Lower-class environments are much different from upper-class environments. Lower-class individuals have to respond chronically to a number of vulnerabilities and social threats. You really need to depend on others so they will tell you if a social threat or opportunity is coming and that makes you more perceptive of emotions.”
While a lack of resources fosters greater emotional intelligence, having more resources can cause bad behavior in its own right. University of Berkeley research found that even fake money could make people behave with less regard for others. Researchers observed that when two students played monopoly, one having been given a great deal more Monopoly money than the other, the wealthier player expressed initial discomfort, but then went on to act aggressively, taking up more space and moving his pieces more loudly, and even taunts the player with less money.
Wealth can cloud moral judgment.
It is no surprise in this post-2008 world to learn that wealth may cause a sense of moral entitlement. A UC Berkeley study found that in San Francisco -- where the law requires that cars stop at crosswalks for pedestrians to pass -- drivers of luxury cars were four times less likely than those in less expensive vehicles to stop and allow pedestrians the right of way. They were also more likely to cut off other drivers.
Another study suggested that merely thinking about money could lead to unethical behavior. Researchers from Harvard and the University of Utah found that study participants were more likely to lie or behave immorally after being exposed to money-related words.
“Even if we are well intentioned, even if we think we know right from wrong, there may be factors influencing our decisions and behaviors that we’re not aware of,” University of Utah associate management professor Kristin Smith-Crowe, one of the study's co-authors, told MarketWatch.
Wealth has been linked with addiction.
While money itself doesn't cause addiction or substance abuse, wealth has been linked with a higher susceptibility to addiction problems. A number of studies have found that affluent children are more vulnerable to substance abuse issues, potentially because of high pressure to achieve and isolation from parents. Studies also found that kids who come from wealthy parents aren't necessary exempt from adjustment problems -- in fact, research found that on several measures of maladjustment, high school studies of high socioeconomic status received higher scores than inner-city students. Researchers found that these children may be more likely to internalize problems, which has been linked with substance abuse.
But it's not just adolescents: Even in adulthood, the rich outdrink the poor by more than 27 percent.
Money itself can become addictive.
The pursuit of wealth itself can also become a compulsive behavior. As Psychologist Dr. Tian Dayton explained, a compulsive need to acquire money is often considered part of a class of behaviors known as process addictions, or "behavioral addictions," which are distinct from substance abuse:
These days, the idea of process addictions is widely accepted. Process addictions are addictions that involve a compulsive and/or an out of control relationship with certain behaviors such as gambling, sex, eating and yes, even money... There is a change in brain chemistry with a process addiction that's similar to the mood altering effects of alcohol or drugs. With process addictions engaging in a certain activity, say viewing pornography, compulsive eating or an obsessive relationship with money, can kick start the release of brain/body chemicals, like dopamine, that actually produce a "high" that's similar to the chemical high of a drug. The person who is addicted to some form of behavior has learned, albeit unconsciously, to manipulate his own brain chemistry.
While a process addiction is not a chemical addiction, it does involve compulsive behavior -- in this case, an addiction to the good feeling that comes from receiving money or possessions -- which can ultimately lead to negative consequences and harm the individual's well-being. Addiction to spending money -- sometimes known as shopaholism -- is another, more common type of money-associated process addiction.
Wealthy children may be more troubled.
Children growing up in wealthy families may seem to have it all, but having it all may come at a high cost. Wealthier children tend to be more distressed than lower-income kids, and are at high risk for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, cheating and stealing. Research has also found high instances of binge-drinking and marijuana use among the children of high-income, two-parent, white families.
"In upwardly mobile communities, children are often pressed to excel at multiple academic and extracurricular pursuits to maximize their long-term academic prospects -- a phenomenon that may well engender high stress," psychologist Suniya Luthar in "The Culture Of Affluence." "At an emotional level, similarly, isolation may often derive from the erosion of family time together because of the demands of affluent parents' career obligations and the children's many after-school activities."
We tend to perceive the wealthy as "evil."
On the other side of the spectrum, lower-income individuals are likely to judge and stereotype those who are wealthier than themselves, often judging the wealthy as being "cold." (Though it is also true that the poor struggle with their own set of societal stereotypes.)
Rich people tend to be a source of envy and distrust, so much so that we may even take pleasure in their struggles, according to Scientific American. University of Pennsylvania research demonstrated that most people tend to link perceived profits with perceived social harm. When participants were asked to assess various companies and industries (some real, some hypothetical), both liberals and conservatives ranked institutions perceived to have higher profits with greater evil and wrong-doing across the board, independent of the company or industry's actions in reality.
Money can't buy happiness (or love).
We tend to seek money and power in our pursuit of success (and who doesn't want to be successful, after all?), but it may be getting in the way of the things that really matter: Happiness and love.
There is no direct correlation between income and happiness. After a certain level of income that can take care of basic needs and relieve strain (some say $50,000 a year, some say $75,000), wealth makes hardly any difference to overall well-being and happiness and, if anything, only harms well-being: Extremely affluent people actually suffer from higher rates of depression. Some data has suggested money itself doesn't lead to dissatisfaction -- instead, it's the ceaseless striving for wealth and material possessions that may lead to unhappiness. Materialistic values have even been linked with lower relationship satisfaction.
But here's something to be happy about: More Americans are beginning to look beyond money and status when it comes to defining success in life. Only around one-quarter of Americans still believe that wealth determines success, according to a 2013 LifeTwist study.
Arianna Huffington and Mika Brzezinski are taking The Third Metric on a 3-city tour: NY, DC & LA. Tickets are on sale now at thirdmetric.com.
"The best advice I ever received? Simple: Have no regrets. Who gave me the advice? Mum’s the word. "If you asked every person in the world who gave them their best advice, it is a safe bet that most would say it was their mother. I am no exception. My mother has taught me many valuable lessons that have helped shape my life. But having no regrets stands out above all others, because it has informed every aspect of my life and every business decision we have ever made." Source: LinkedIn
"... I had access to the best guidance available: We all do. In the era of blogging, many of the leading thinkers in the web industry were publishing their thoughts online for free. I learned about venture capital thanks to the insights of Fred Wilson, and got my first look at the world of digital marketing thanks to Edelman’s Steve Rubel. Charlene Li of Forrester Research was unknowingly my mentor in the realm of web trends. Now many of these industry experts have moved to newer platforms like Twitter and Facebook, where they continue to distill their invaluable advice and insights to the world. And everyday (sic), without knowing it, they are actually giving me the best advice: Keep listening." Source: LinkedIn
"Moving fast and being organized were my strong suits. The more there was to do, the more I felt alive." Who better than me, then, to land a plum assignment working for Jack Welch, Mr. Speed and Simplicity. Imagine my surprise when he called me into his office that day and admonished me for being too efficient. My zeal to do everything on my to-do list — along with my reserved, even shy nature — made me come across as abrupt and cold. I started every meeting by jumping right in and left with every action under control. 'You have to wallow in it,' he said. 'Take time to get to know people. Understand where they are coming from, what is important to them. Make sure they are with you.' I heard Jack loud and clear. But honestly, it took a long time for the impact of his words to sink in, and even longer to change my behavior. After all, those same attributes had led to my being in the role in the first place." Source: LinkedIn
"The best advice I’ve ever received was from my father when I was 12 years old and willing to listen. He told me that with my personal characteristics, I could, if I set my mind to it, do anything I chose. This advice instilled in me a great sense of confidence, and despite the fact that sometimes I was a little nervous, I stepped out and did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. I think it really often is up to the parents to help build confidence in their children. It is a very necessary part of growing up." Source: LinkedIn
"If I had to single out one piece of advice that’s guided me through life, most likely it would be from my grandmother, Nellie Molonson. She always made a point of making sure I understood that on the road to success, there’s no point in blaming others when you fail. Here’s how she put it: 'Sonny, I don’t care who you are. Some day you’re going to have to sit on your own bottom.' After more than half a century in the energy business, her advice has proven itself to be spot-on time and time again. My failures? I never have any doubt whom they can be traced back to. My successes? Most likely the same guy." Source: LinkedIn
"As a child, I can't recall a day that went by without my dad telling me I could do anything I set my mind to. He said it so often, I stopped hearing it ... It wasn't until decades later that I fully appreciated the importance of those words and the impact they had on me." Source: LinkedIn
At a conference in 2006, President Clinton gave Agassi some advice on pricing for market disruption: "'By the time you will convince the rich folks in Israel to try it, then get the average folks in Israel to try it, then bring it to the U.S. for our rich folks ... the world will run out of time. You need to price your car so that an average Joe would prefer it over the kind of cars they buy today — an 8-year-old used gasoline car, selling for less than $3,000. As a matter of fact, if you can give away your car for free, that's a sure way to succeed.' Pricing for market disruption is very different than pricing for a few early adopters. You have to plan your pricing from the target customer's perspective, within the boundaries of your costs." Source: LinkedIn
"I'm a nerd, seriously hard-core, and sometimes that translates into being a know-it-all. People got tired of that while I worked at an IBM branch office in Detroit in the eighties. My boss told that that it had become a real problem with about half my co-workers. However, he said that my saving grace was my sense of humor. When trying to be funny, well, didn't matter if I was funny or not, at least I wasn't being an a**hole. The advice was to focus on my sense of humor and worry less about being exactly right. For sure, don't correct people when it matters little." It took a while to get noticed, but it did get noticed, and some tension got less tense. That felt pretty good. Source: LinkedIn
"When I was 20-something ... I walked into my boss’s office, the division leader ... I told him that I felt like on any given day I was facing a tsunami of things I could pay attention to, and there was no way I could work any harder to make stuff happen. I was asking for more resources, as the answer. And he sat me down as he might one of his many kids and gave me this advice: Feed the Eagles and Starve the Turkeys. Feed the Eagles. There are only a few things that matter. Know what they are. And place your energy into them. They aren’t always right in front of you so you need to look up and out more. Starve the Turkeys – lots of things are right in front of you … pecking around, making noise, and demanding attention. Because they are right in front of you, it’s easy to pay attention to them most and first. Ignore them. They will actually do fine without you." Source: LinkedIn
"'You are not required to finish your work, yet neither are you permitted to desist from it.' This is from Pirke Aboth, or “The Ethics of the Fathers” ... a collection of wisdom from the Jewish Talmudic sages, in this case, Rabbi Tarfon. This particular instruction has resonated with me for years. It’s something I think about nearly each day, and I find myself applying it to everything: My day job, my family life, my long-term hopes, even my sense of responsibility as a citizen. It’s a beautiful concept. It says you have an obligation to labor, to continue trying and making your way through the world, in essence, making a difference. At the same time, the instruction also focuses you on the effort, not the outcome. The main idea is the project, not the success." Source: LinkedIn
"I received one of my most valuable and sustaining pieces of advice from my mentor Bill Moggridge soon after I started working with him in the late 1980's. He had something called the '10 day rule' that he applied religiously to his own life and suggested strongly that I did the same to mine. The 10 day rule dictated that he was never allowed to travel away from his wife, Karin, for more than 10 days at a time. He would go to whatever lengths necessary to make it back home within the 10 days even if it meant flying the next day to another client meeting. His view was that this design constraint made him more efficient with travel and also reminded him to keep a balance between home and work life. I have found both of these to be true and have applied the 10 day rule throughout my career. I am convinced it has helped me maintain a great relationship with my own wife, Gaynor, for the last 27 years." Source: LinkedIn
"My father-in-law, the Honorable Steven W. Fisher ... taught me this essential business paradox: when you want something from someone, give them something instead, with no strings attached or expectations. Ask how you can be of service. Act like a true friend, even before you’ve established a friendship. Are you guaranteed to be able to leverage this later? Absolutely not. But that’s not the point – the point is that when you act unselfishly – when you behave as you would to a great friend – trustworthy and trusting, respectful and kind – then more often than not, good things will come in the relationship." Source: LinkedIn
"'Follow your instincts' was the terse, three-word suggestion I received 25 years ago from Don Valentine, founder of Sequoia Capital. 'Follow your instincts' shouldn’t be confused with 'trust your gut,' 'ignore reality,' 'rely on your sniffer' or 'go for glory.' The rough translation is 'do your homework well, analyze things carefully, assess the options but eventually trust your judgment and have the courage of your convictions – even if they are unpopular." Source: LinkedIn
"Most of us are trained to believe that practice makes perfect; but the best advice I've ever received preaches the exact opposite: Don’t be a perfectionist. Today I embrace this, but when I first heard this 7 years ago, I refused to accept it." Source: LinkedIn
"I've heard and read quite a lot of good advice, most of which I've probably ignored, but one thing that I did internalize was a bit of advice about, oddly enough, travel: pack half as much stuff as you think you'll need, and twice as much money. The more I travel this way the more I bring the same attitude to every new project. You can't know what's going to happen, so don't worry — just take what you need, and jump in." Source: LinkedIn
"My father: 'If you’re willing to take the blame when you deserve it, people will give you the responsibility.' This was perhaps the best advice for the workplace I ever got." Source: LinkedIn
Thompson's former soccer coach, Bruce Cochrane, told him that losing doesn't matter: "It sounds like a trite lesson now: another version of 'it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game.' But it was much more powerful. He was explaining that there was a certain artistry to what we were trying to do, and a certain dignity that we had upheld even in defeat." Source: LinkedIn
"The advice came from Clint Williams, an editor at the paper. Near the end of the summer, many of the fellows were figuring out where to focus our job search or weighing job offers. Many of us didn’t know what to do next. What would make us happy? Clint had a rule of thirds for happiness in life. He told me to ask three questions: Are you happy with your job? Are you happy where you live? Are you happy who you’re with (depending on your circumstances that could mean friends, spouse, partner, etc). If you answer Yes to at least two out of three, you found your spot for the moment. If not, you need to make a change to one of them." Source: LinkedIn
"In my second year at Harvard Business School, I took a career management course because I had no idea what I was going to do upon graduation. At the start of the course, the professor gave me the best advice: That the most important asset I would ever manage would be my career and because of that, I should give it the proper time, attention and investment that it deserved. No other asset I would ever manage would ever come close to the net present value of my career." His specific advice was to evaluate my career status about every 18 months. It's 18 months because that's about how long it takes for a person to master a job — and begin to look for new challenges. Either you find those challenges in the existing job or you have to and find new opportunities. Regardless, that regular evaluation keeps you honest about managing your career, rather than passively going along with the situation that you are currently in." Source: LinkedIn
"... I received some great advice from Marshall Goldsmith, one of the preeminent authorities in the field of leadership. He told me this: 'If you want to be an effective leader, listen to and accept with humility the feedback that comes from your team.' The most fundamental commitment you have to make as a leader is to humbly listen to the input of others, take it seriously, and work to improve. Again, it sounds simple, but it’s not easy. Leadership, as Marshall always says, is a contact sport, and one has to constantly ask for and respond to advice from colleagues so you can improve." Source: LinkedIn
"One day, after some petty humiliation, I came home in tears. My mother sat me down and told me, in a voice that I thought of as her 'telephone voice' (meaning, reserved for grown-ups), that I should ignore the girls [from school]; the only reason they were treating me poorly was because they were jealous of me. Therefore I should ignore the chattering crowds and set my own course." Source: LinkedIn
Pat Riley, President of the Miami Heat, told Guber to never visibly show how upset you are: "You are going to lose a lot! A lot! Get used to it! It’s a crucial part of the process! That behavior doesn’t help you or your team. You’ve got to always remain visibly positive! Managing losses is a challenge you must be up to! You can never give in to it!" Source: LinkedIn
"You're never as good as your best review, and never as bad as your worst.' I was given this advice by a former boss, and it has since stuck with me as a guide for getting through the best of times and the worst of times. Looking back on my career and all of the places I’ve been, there have been incredible highs and lows at each point along the way. What I’ve come to learn is that life is cyclical and the best way to stay focused is to ignore the swings and instead focus on the long run." Source: LinkedIn