I’m rich. You must be, too.

“Let me tell you about the very rich,” the novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in the 1920s. “They are different from you and me.”

“Yes,” his friend and rival Ernest Hemingway replied. “They have more money.”

Hemingway’s retort may be apocryphal, but the point is indisputable. Then as now, the rich have much more money than you and me, and they have more money in part because they don’t give it away. The very wealthy are disproportionately opposed to any policy–including tax policies–that would redistribute wealth more equitably.

This makes sense from a purely economic perspective. Such redistribution policies do not serve the self-interest of those who have, so the wealthy align themselves with political parties that oppose wealth redistribution.

But is there more to it than rational self-interest? Perhaps so, says psychological scientist Rael Dawtry of the University of Kent, UK. Working with colleagues at Kent and the University of Aukland, Dawtry has been studying a psychological mechanism called social sampling, which may play an important part in reinforcing attitudes and policies favoring the preservation of wealth.

Social sampling is one way we all assess the world. We don’t have accurate information about everyone, so we sample from our own social circle. The problem is that this sample of the world may not actually be representative of the larger world, so we get a skewed sense of others’ lives. This, Dawtry suggests, may be going on with wealth. That is, the wealthy live in a rather insular sub-society, where most everyone is affluent. Based on their own experience and their impression of neighbors and colleagues who are just as well off, they calculate that wealth in the larger society is much higher than it is in fact. This misperception gets more distorted the wealthier one becomes, and it leads down the road to distorted —> Read More