Guess who’s nicer: rich people or poor people?

Louis_Vuitton_in_Paris_01If you dropped all our belongings or needed to borrow a phone, who do you think would be more likely to help you out? People coming out of a Prada store or people coming out of, say, H&M?

Alas, all those clichés about the ungenerous and selfish rich seem to have been proven true – at least in one experiment conducted in Paris.

Fortune magazine reports on a recent study finding that shoppers outside high-end retail stores are less likely to stop to help a stranger in need than people in places without the schmancy retail.

“Researchers at Paris Descartes University and University of Southern Brittany report that the mere presence of luxury goods seems to make passersby uncharitable.

Using the streets of Paris as their laboratory, the social scientists tested how environmental cues affect people’s generosity. Groups of undergraduate women played the mademoiselle in distress near name brand outlets, such as Louis Vuitton, Dior, Chanel, Prada, and Versace. Sometimes the volunteers walked on crutches and pretended to be distraught after dropping their belongings in front of unsuspecting subjects. Other times they asked to borrow a cellphone, or for the momentary supervision of a wheelchair-bound friend (who was also in on the ruse).”

The results are kind of shocking.

People in areas with luxury boutiques were less than HALF as likely to lend a hand. Only 35% of people in the rich hood were willing to help, compared with 77.5% in less affluent surroundings.

I still find the high end of 77.5% of people being helpful very low, but this is Paris, where everyone is just kind of rude on the regular. (I’m sorry but it’s true. I was there a couple of months ago with my family, and after the second day I turned to my husband and said, “I have a suggested tourism slogan. “Welcome to Paris. Fuck you.”) I like to imagine it would be higher elsewhere, like Toronto, but I’m also deluded about a lot of things, a terrible judge of character, and often wrong.

The researchers reportedly theorize that materialism and reminders of conspicuous consumption make people less empathetic toward their fellow humans.

I have to say that my experience as a fundraiser does seem to mirror this finding. I do a lot of asking people for money to help refugees and, though I can’t exactly break it down – and maybe I just have more poor people in my network than rich ones, I have found that those with less money do seem to be more willing to part with it, and the amount they’re willing to part with seems to be a larger portion of their income than those who are more affluent.

Not sure what this proves about human nature or people, if anything. But if you’re going to fall down, maybe do it in front of a Walmart.

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