Dacher Keltner: We're starting to paint this really interesting picture of how wealth influences generosity. If you study at the societal level, who gives higher proportions of their income away to charity? Lower class people give more.
And what's really interesting is we're finding that lower class people just have a sharper sensitivity to need and to people who could use a little help. But when you simply prime, or you just get people from an upper class background, to think about the need in their environment, you see rises in generosity.
Paul Solman: Rises to the same extent that poorer people give away their money?
Dacher Keltner: Yeah. The very simple experiment that we've done is if we have upper class individuals going through an experience of compassion or see something that portrays suffering, you see rises in generosity to comparable levels of the poor. ...
... Dacher Keltner: Yeah, there's a lot of very deeply entrenched skepticism about altruism in western culture that goes back millennia, and one of the great advocates of this skepticism is Ayn Rand. I'll quote from her 1960 essay: "If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject." And she had this argument that thinking about the needs of others is an enemy of freedom, and strength and self-expression.
There are a lot of new data that show if you're generous, and charitable and altruistic, you'll live longer; you'll feel more fulfilled; you'll feel more expressive of who you are as a person; you probably will feel more control and freedom in your life. So the science calls that thesis into very deep question.
Paul Solman: And yet that's a thesis that has a lot of traction these days.
Dacher Keltner: It does, but, you know, I'm really encouraged by, you know, what's happening with the millennials and the interest that places like Facebook and Google are showing in terms of promoting charity and generosity and a consideration of other people's interests.
I'm lucky enough to be doing a bit of work on Facebook that's oriented towards making their site more compassionate, and they are actively interested in creating pieces of the social network that are for giving away things. So, it's going to be interesting to see if they deliver on that. ...