Monday, February 01, 2010

No, really, they're actually monsters

Ever think the rich and powerful might -- gasp! -- hold different standards for proper conduct in others than they themselves follow?
Once we become socially isolated, we stop simulating the feelings of other people.* As a result, our inner Machiavelli takes over, and our sense of sympathy is squashed by selfishness. The UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner has found that, in many social situations, people with power act just like patients with severe brain damage. "The experience of power might be thought of as having someone open up your skull and take out that part of your brain so critical to empathy and socially-appropriate behavior," he writes. "You become very impulsive and insensitive, which is a bad combination."

Of course, we live in an age when our most powerful people - they tend to also have lots of money - are also the most isolated. They live in gated communities with private drivers. They eat at different restaurants and stay at different resorts. They wear different clothes and skip the security lines at airports, before sitting at the front of the plane. We shouldn't be surprised that they're also assholes.

1 comment:

Jumpin' Joan Flash said...

Oh, dear, John. Did you actually READ the details of the study? Did you note the small sample size, the weak and specious connection between morality and the experimental situation? You may be right in your conclusion, but you would be on really shaky ground trying to justify it by this effort.