Is Fairness An Innate Trait?

I recently came across YouTube video by TYT (The Young Turks) about a research study on fairness and money. Actually what drew me into watching the video was the video title, “How Being Rich Can Make You A Dick”

The video is about a study conducted by the University of California Berkeley on on the advantages of having wealth. According to the study two participants were kept in a windowless room and were asked to play a game of monopoly. One of the players was given an unfair advantage during the start of the game by way of extra cash included with bonus cash for every move he made, while the other player received less money all around. During the course of the game, the researchers observed that the advantaged player displayed more aggression and arrogance during the course of the game, as compared to the other player. Looking at the TYT video, it appeared the main host Cenk, was alluding to the idea that having wealth over others makes human beings more arrogant and less empathetic towards others with less wealth. If this is what he meant, I would have to disagree with his misinterpretation, and here’s why.

People have an innate sense of fairness, because people who are sound of mind have awareness. Awareness affords us the benefit of knowing right from wrong. So if I give my six year old two dollars and I give my three year old (who just witnessed my interaction with the six year old) one dollar, my three year old is going to ask why the six year old received more money. Why would the three year old ask this? Because her expectation that I give her the same amount of money I gave her brother is reasonable, this is what her sense of awareness informs her.

The concept of fairness is so ingrained in our DNA that you see it play out in the workplace. Once at a former job, a human resources manager who got fired, sought her revenge on her last day by “mistakenly” sending out an email to all members of staff that listed our positions and our respective salaries. I became so angered when I noticed that two of my co workers were making more money than myself that I resolved to ask for a pay raise. The next day in my boss’s office, in anticipation of what my grievance was about (I am guessing) , my boss gave me a pay increase which equated to what my coworkers were making. So I believe that it is reasonable to write that given that my boss clearly valued my work, his sense of awareness informed him that I was not going to be happy with the report I received via email and he also anticipated that I would approach him for a pay increase. While I was pleasantly surprised by his response, it made a lot of sense.

We all know what is fair and what isn’t, so what does this have to do with the study? My interpretation of the study is this; the reason for the boisterous  behavior of the unfairly advantaged monopoly player is because that player was overcompensating for his feelings of inadequacy.

Consider this scenario, let’s say I am sprinter, and I  am preparing for an upcoming race, when my coach approaches me with a proposition to use steroids or some other type of growth hormone to win the race. If I accept my coach’s offer, it simply means that he does not believe I will win the race and that I agree with him. Heck it could also be presumed that my coach may not be a big believer in my abilities as a sprinter. So even if I use drugs to cheat the race and I win the race, my feelings of inadequacy wouldn’t go away.

Chances are high that due to the turmoil I will experience internally, I will act out behaviorally even after I have won the race. I may display a great deal of arrogance and immaturity, just to overcompensate for my feelings of inadequacy or feelings of being a fraud.

I do not believe that inheriting money from your family leads to feelings of inadequacy, however money that is stolen or earned through ill gotten means certainly can level leads to feelings of inadequacy. So if I were to rob a bank or a store, what I am telling myself and others through my actions is that I do not believe I have what it takes to make a honest living.

It’s like the saying goes, “hurt people hurt people,” so when you see people behaving arrogantly, they are probably  coming from a place of inadequacy.

The video is below.

Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.

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