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Wealth May Affect How You Feel About Others


A worker counts U.S. dollar bills and Philippine pesos inside a money changer in Manila.

A worker counts U.S. dollar bills and Philippine pesos inside a money changer in Manila.


Greetings! And welcome to another edition of As It Is, a program designed to help you learn and improve your English. I’m Jim Tedder in Washington. Today we have information about a study from the west coast of the United States that deals with the “haves” and the “have nots.” It is all about money and power, and how those with it feel about those without it. You may be surprised by what you learn.

Then we’ll hear about scientists who are studying climate change. And they are asking for your help. Stay with us, because a nice prize is involved. We are happy that you decided to spend some time with us today …As It Is!

A new study has shown that the more power and money some people have, the less they care about others. Steve Ember has studied the findings, and has details of the story.

Paul Piff works in the psychology department at the University of California at Berkeley. He wanted to test his observations that people with more money or social position behave rudely, that their behavior shows less concern for the feelings of others.

“I got really interested in the question of how do different levels of privilege and different levels of wealth between people in everyday life shape how they behave toward others and how they see the world.”

Paul Piff designed an experiment to study the behavior of strangers who were meeting for the first time. During these meetings, volunteers who had described themselves as wealthier did not seem interested in getting to know the other person. People who had identified themselves as not wealthy were more likely to listen to and look at the stranger. They laughed more. They seemed to enjoy the get-together.

Working with other Berkeley researchers, Paul Piff designed more than thirty experiments to study how wealth and social position affect behavior. One experiment studied the actions of drivers on a busy street.

The researchers found that people driving pricey cars were less likely to stop for people trying to walk across the street. These drivers ignored traffic laws more often than drivers of older or less costly cars. Mr. Piff says this field of social science helps in understanding the causes of corruption among the powerful.


“It’s not just our work, but that of others that finds it is the more powerful individuals in society, the more privileged, the wealthier individuals in society that are more likely to break the rules.”

He says the research suggests that for many people power and money can have a corrupting influence on social behavior. He is concerned that as wealth inequality increases in society, there is a strong pressure for people who care about fairness and equality to violate their own rules of good behavior.

“Who are the people that don’t do that?”

He is interested in learning about people who resist the corrupting influence of power or wealth -- those who do not cheat or lie to get more for themselves.

“And the question I want to answer is, what are the effects of social class on everyday life?”

He says the experiments do not show that some people are good and some people are bad.

“It’s not the case that if you are wealthy you are necessarily anti-social, selfish or corrupt, at all. That’s not what we document.”

Paul Piff says it does show that for some people, increased wealth and power and status can change their behavior. He says the attention to self at the expense of others can be costly to society.

The research at Berkeley has been done with North Americans from many ethnic groups and all races. Paul Piff says he and his colleagues are interested in working with researchers in other countries. They want to try to understand how wealth affects human behavior around the world.

“I’m always interested in creating collaborations with interested and curious investigators.



Would You Like To Be A Scientist?


Next, an American researcher is making an appeal to what he calls “citizen scientists.” Would you like to participate?

These scientists are seeking more information about gasses that traps heat in the atmosphere. They have launched a project in an effort to better understand how one such gas, carbon dioxide, affects climate change. The project will depend on people just like you providing information about all of the world’s power plants. June Simms joins us with the details.

Kevin Gurney is an atmospheric scientist at Arizona State University. He is making a map of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Power plants are major producers of those gases. They are believed to cause more than 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.

Power plants give off gasses like carbon dioxide.

Power plants give off gasses like carbon dioxide.

Kevin Gurney says there is good information about emissions in the United States, Canada, India and the European Union. But, he says, estimates for the rest of the world are not complete.

“And if fact, it’s so inaccurate that is really insufficient for the type of science that we’re trying to do.”

Kevin Gurney’s project is called Ventus, a word that means ‘wind’ in Latin. He has set up a website where people around the world can provide information about power stations.

“We need two pieces of information. We need the amount of electricity generated at a power plant, which if you live near one or you know somebody that works there, that information is pretty readily available. Most people will know that. We also just need to know the primary fuel. And with those two things we can actually create a better estimate of CO2 emissions than we do right now.”


The Ventus project database currently lists about 25,000 power plants. Mr. Gurney says there are plants missing from the list. He is asking others to provide the missing information. One of the project’s goals is to create a regularly updated map of carbon dioxide emissions everywhere in the world.

“We will produce the emissions on a map, every hour, every year. We will use that within models of climate change to more accurately characterize emissions, greenhouse gas concentration and the projections of those concentrations into the future.”

The Arizona researcher wants citizen scientists to register on the website. The person who provides the most usable information will be named Supreme Power Plant Emissions Guru. That honor comes with an award and recognition as a co-author on a scientific paper about the project. I’m June Simms.

Thanks, June. By the way, you can see the map on the Ventus website. The scientists change it as new information comes in. Kevin Gurney says he hopes it will help better inform policy makers and the public. He also expects citizens engaged with the project to become activists for change.

It’s time for us to make room for more Learning English programs, and then world news at the beginning of the hour. We’ll leave you with the wonderful music of American composer Aaron Copland, who was born on this day 113 years ago!
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