“Financial incentives lead individuals to see themselves as less interdependent with others, and consequently render them less able to accurately infer what others are feeling,” report psychologists Christine Ma-Kellams and Jim Blascovich.
Specifically, they found people judged the emotional states of others less accurately when they were offered a monetary reward for a correct response. Writing in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, they describe two experiments that produced these counterintuitive results.
“These findings are particularly compelling given that, in both studies, it (literally) paid to be empathically accurate,” Ma-Kellams and Blascovich note. “Despite the fact that correctly inferring the emotional states of others would have resulted in financial gain, individuals who focused on the monetary payoff performed worse relative to those who did not.”
These results suggest that the thought of making money causes people to be “more focused on self-related concerns, and less able to empathically infer others’ feelings,” they write.