Year of Publication

2016

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Dr. Richard H. Smith

Abstract

Conservatives and liberals disagree about the underlying motivations driving opposition to concentrated wealth. Liberals contend that such objections are often driven by legitimate fairness concerns, whereas conservatives frequently cite envy instead. Research and theory suggest that two particularly important contextual questions with respect to emotional reactions to wealth are its source (inherited or earned), and how that wealth is put to use, which could interactively and differentially influence liberals’ and conservatives’ reactions to affluent individuals. The current study aimed to empirically address whether liberals actually are more prone to envy than conservatives, both in general and in response to specific wealthy people of different backgrounds.

Participants (N = 800) reported their reactions to ostensibly-real, wealthy entrepreneurs described in articles from a business news website. Liberals tended to respond with slightly more envy than conservatives across conditions, and controlling for several potential confounding factors, liberal political ideology was weakly positively correlated with dispositional envy. People across the political spectrum responded with greater envy in response to wealthy entrepreneurs who harmed others in the pursuit of wealth than entrepreneurs who did not harm others. However, liberals’ envy was increased more strongly by entrepreneurial harm-doing than conservatives’, and this difference was explained by greater perceived harm and unfairness. On the other hand, only conservatives reacted with greater envy to entrepreneurs who inherited their wealth rather than having earned it through hard work. Especially because, in addition to envy, liberals felt somewhat more resentment, moral disgust, and anger toward the wealthy entrepreneurs, further research will be necessary to fully understand the role of political ideology in reactions to affluent people.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/ETD.2016.410

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