Being Near Fancy Stores Makes Us Selfish Jerks

People on streets with high-end stores are considerably less likely to help a stranger in need
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 16, 2016 7:28 AM CDT
Being Near Fancy Stores Makes Us Selfish Jerks
People walk past a homeless man sitting on his luggage next to a luxury shop in Paris Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014.   (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

If you ever find yourself relying on the kindness of strangers, you'd best hope you're not on a street lined with upscale shops. So conclude French researchers in a study titled, "'Wrong place to get help': A field experiment on luxury stores and helping behavior," in the journal Social Influence. "These results support the view that passersby near a luxury store are less helpful than those in a control group in an ordinary street," researchers write. This, they conclude, is because "environmental cues of materialism" prime us to have "increased self-enhancement and competitive values" and decreased "trusting and benevolent behavior." In other words, we become "jerky jerkfaces," the Consumerist writes.

In the first of three experiments, researchers found that only 33% of people leaving a luxury store helped a woman in a leg brace pick up a dropped water bottle and bag of candy, compared to 77% of those who helped on a street that wasn't cluttered with shops. In the second experiment, only 23% of luxury shoppers were willing to watch a disabled woman whose friend had to run into a shop, while 82% of people on a residential street were willing to help. And finally, a woman asking passersby if she could borrow a cell phone to make a call had a 41% success rate on a luxury shop street, a 63% success rate on a mixed-shop street, and a 74% success rate on an "ordinary" street. Marketwatch notes that these findings are limited to Paris, but they're also not without precedent; other studies from other places, including one dating to 1992, find that higher levels of materialism correlate with lower levels of concern for others. (Are Americans getting more selfish in general?)

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