Contrasting Views About Success

On 4 August 2017 Christian Jarret wrote an interesting blog for the BPS Research Digest: We have an ingrained anti-profit bias that blinds us to the social benefits of free markets. The blog summarised a paper that claimed most of us have an instinctual anti-profit bias. We view for-profit companies and industries – upon which capitalism is based – with inherent distrust, assuming that the more profitable they are, the more harm they do to society. Through seven separate studies involving hundreds of online participants, the researchers present evidence that the anti-profit bias arises because we think about for-profit motives in a somewhat superficial, ego-centric fashion. Because the desire for profit is seen as based on selfish intent, we extrapolate to assume that the activities of for-profit companies and industries must be bad for society, disregarding the reality that selfish intents can have positive consequences. For example in one study, participants were presented with vignettes of different companies and either told they operated for-profit or not-for-profit. Participants rated the exact same companies, engaging in the same business activities, as more likely to cause social harm, and less likely to bring social benefit, if they were described as for-profit rather than not-for-profit. The findings of an ingrained anti-profit bias generally held regardless of participants’ economic knowledge or political leanings.

Then six weeks later the same publication republished a 30 September 2015 blog by Alex Fradera: They deny it, but the middle classes have a subconscious positive bias toward the rich. This blog summarised another study by Yale researchers Suzanne Horwitz and John Dovidio that had middle-class participants complete a version of the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which has been used by psychologists in the past to reveal people’s race-, age-, and sex-based biases, and more recently negative attitudes to the poor. In this test, participants have to use just two computer keyboard keys to categorise words flashed on-screen. The standard categories are “good” words (e.g. wonderful, excellent) and “bad” (e.g. horrible, nasty), and the participants’ task is to respond as fast as possible, pressing the key for the good category when they see what they consider a good word and the key denoting the bad category when they see a bad word.

Specific to this study, other words in the same test had to be classed as fitting a rich category (e.g. high income, upper class, rich) or middle class category (e.g. average income, middle class, typical), using the same two keys that were also used for categorising good and bad words. Crucially, when categorising a word as rich or good required use of the same key, faster participant performance (vs. when the rich and bad categories were paired with the same key) would suggest that participants subconsciously considered being rich as a good thing rather than a bad thing. And indeed, across the four experiments, participants showed such a positive bias toward the rich, which was larger than the bias they showed towards their own group of the middle class.

One is reminded of Neil de Grasse Tyson’s recent tweet “Anyone who thinks scientists like agreeing with one another has never attended a scientific conference.”

I have noticed in my workshops one interesting phenomena. The first part of the workshop I describe the seven components. Most participants because “we like those who are like ourselves” dislike the two least common components: The Politician and Hustler/GoGetter. Then as the workshop develops the participants discover that these two components are the keys to financial and managerial success. Their attitude changes from initial dislike to asking how they can incorporate these two components into their behaviour.


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Chris Golis - Author


"Put in a sales perspective, I loved your presentation! I got a lot from what you talked about and I will read your book."

Peter Morris, Executive Officer, Lomax Financial Group

Your presentation on 'Lifting your Level of Emotional Intelligence" to 10 CEOs scored an average 8.9 out of 10 for the topic and 8.5 for the presentation which is great. A couple of the attendees gave you a 10 out of 10, and the comments were:

- Great presentation. Very informative.

- Excellent presentation.

- made me think.

Christi Spring CEO Institute. - web