A new study reveals a specific link between luxury goods and selfishness. Two experiments showed that “exposure to luxury led people to think more about themselves than others,” according to a Harvard Business School paper.
Roy Y. J. Chua and Xi Zou conducted two experiments in which one group of participants was exposed to pictures of luxury goods, such as watches and shoes. The other group was shown pictures of watches and shoes that were not luxury brands. After participants identified characteristics of the goods, they were then asked to take an unrelated survey about decision-making. Those exposed to luxury goods were significantly more likely to act in their own self-interest, even at the expense or harm of others.
In a second experiment, those exposed to luxury goods were less able to identify words that expressed positive social actions than those who were only exposed to nonluxury goods. In other words, the cognition, or thought process, of those exposed to luxury goods tended to be self-centered and self-interested with less regard for others.
All of this might explain why people like Tiger Woods make such absurdly self-centered choices. Tiger owns both a luxury yacht and private jet, not to mention the Cadillac Escalade he just wrecked, or the mansions he owns, and so on. This might also explain why the head of Goldman Sachs described banks, including his, as “doing God’s work.” Luxury tends to blind us to the needs of others, and bias us toward our own self-interest.
The Harvard Business article is playfully titled, “The Devil Wears Prada?” – an apparent play on the book and movie by the same name, only without the question mark.
So, when Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear” he was telling us how to order our lives so that we have the basic necessities of life, but also be concerned that others have them, too.
It also puts the “prosperity gospel” (I hate to write those words together) in a new light. Preachers who drive around in luxury cars, fly in private jets and tell their flocks how they can get ahead may be creating the next generation of self-centered church members. Not that we haven’t seen that before, but this time we have proof that the more you have, the less concern you have for others. Something to think about during the Christmas season.
Chuck Warnock is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Virginia.