Five questions about greed – NEMO Kennislink

Economic psychologist Karlijn Hoyer

Caroline Hoyer

More, more, more. We all know greed – just think of the record number of purchases we made last Black Friday. Some economists see greed as the engine of the economy. For others, there are mainly disadvantages because more and more consumption does not fit within the limits of our planet. In addition, there are also negative psychological effects. Economic psychologist Karlijn Hoyer earned his PhD at Tilburg University on research into what greed does to people.

What is greed and can you measure it?

“Greed is the insatiable desire for more. It is about money or possessions, but it can also be about the desire for sex, a higher status, more food or more friends. Greedy people not only want a lot, they are not satisfied with what they have. Even if they get what they want, they remain unsatisfied and want more. Greed is a trait that we all have to a greater or lesser degree. By having people fill out questionnaires, we can categorize people into more or less greedy.”

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How does a person become greedy?

“Many character traits in people develop during their childhood. Our research among the Dutch and Americans shows that those who grow up rich become more greedy later on. This is probably because people in their youth get used to a luxurious lifestyle and its convenience. Children who get everything they want become greedier people later on. This effect is especially strong for children without siblings, because then they don’t have to share that wealth.”

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Are greedy people more often lonely and unhappy?

“My research shows that greedy people experience more feelings of loneliness and feel unhappy more often. They have shorter relationships. On the one hand, this is because greed makes people unhappy, but also because others often see greedy people as unfriendly. We think this is why they have trouble making and keeping friends. It turns out that they objectify their friends more: a friendship is so functional. For example, a greedy person tends to ask friends to help paint their house, instead of going to the pub together. So greed has a great impact on the social life of greedy people. Society as a whole can also be harmed by greedy behavior. There is a connection between greed and immoral behavior. For example, greedy people travel more often on public transport without paying, are not honest with their tax returns or cheat more often. There is also a study that shows a link between greed and corruption.”

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Does greed also have positive sides?

“A little greed is not a bad thing. Economists see greed as the engine of the economy: it can drive investment and innovation. My research shows that greed actually provides economic benefits. Greedy people have, on average, a higher household income than other people. This may be because , that greedy people choose their partner strategically so that they deliberately live with someone with a high income. In addition, greed sometimes has an evolutionary advantage: If you save and accumulate a lot, which greedy people often do, it can increase your chance of survive. For example, when sunflower oil became scarce as a result of the war in Ukraine, greedy people probably suffered less because they bought it in bulk.”

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Do you have a tip for people on how to be less greedy?

“We expect that greed can be dampened through, for example, meditation or mindfulness. Those who live more in the here and now will desire less for what they do not yet have. A number of students are now testing whether we can also prove it. Furthermore, there are known methods to become more satisfied with what you have. For example, by writing down in a notebook every day what you were happy with that day. You can also try to make your choices less impulsive. Make a shopping list when you go to the supermarket so you don’t come home with all sorts of things you don’t need. And if you buy something online, you can agree with yourself that you must have something in the shopping cart for ten days before you buy it.”

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Also read the interview about consuming less:

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