Rich Is Far

[We hypothesized that] reminders of (a great deal of) money facilitate global, abstract mental construals … [while] reminders of expenditure or a little money should trigger more concrete mental representations. … Participants were primed with money or money-unrelated concepts. Money primes caused a preference for abstract over concrete action identifications (experiment 1), instigated the formation of broader categories (experiment 2), and facilitated the identification of global (vs. local) aspects of visual patterns (experiment 3). This effect extended to consumer judgments: money primes caused a focus on central (vs. peripheral) aspects of products (experiment 4) and increased the influence of quality of parent brands in evaluations of brand extensions. Priming with a little money (experiment 3) or expenditures (experiment 5) did not trigger abstract construals, indicating that the association between money and resources drives the effect. (more)

We’ve long known that power tends to induce far mode. So now we can say that the rich and powerful tend to think in a more far mode. That includes the entire world, since the world has been getting richer and more powerful. This plausibly explains why our “moral circles” have continued to widen over time, and helps us see why our era’s thinking is an especially deluded “dreamtime.”

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  • arch1

    Robin, I question whether this “wealth promps -> far thinking” result applies to the whole world just because the whole world is getting richer.

    Perception of one’s own wealth is largely based on how one is doing relative to the Joneses (OK, perhaps relative to one’s generational-and-national peers) rather than on an absolute wealth assessment, or an assessment relative to e.g. all H. Sapiens who ever walked the earth.


    “and helps us see why our era’s thinking is an especially deluded “dreamtime.” ”

    Wow, someone seems pretty upset their ruthless, amoral, dystopian libertarian (pretty sure there are several pleonasms there) vision hasn’t become reality yet. If only we did away with crap like compassion and justice, some of us could amass so much more stuff, just for the sake of having more stuff.

    But yes, having your immediate essential needs satisfied allows one to have time to open their mind to the finer things in life, things like philosophy, science and taking care of others.

    • I don’t think Hanson expects libertarianism, nor would pre-Dreamtime history be considered libertarian. The farming era also had strong norms which they likely would have considered more “moral” than ours (though Hanson argues people should not be so upset by their descendants having very different moralities).

      • IMASBA

        He desires a libertarian world and considers opposition to things like slavery and efforts in favor of making the world a better place for everyone (not just the happy few) to be naive, because truly an advanced civilization with all the wonders of nanotech and genetic enhancements at its fingertips should choose to make 95% of its population live lives far more miserable than that of the unluckiest cave man.

  • Robert Koslover

    Not just wealth and money, in my humble opinion. I’d add age to your list.

    • Robert Koslover

      Oops. I meant to say “not just wealth and power…”

    • I don’t recall any results suggesting that old people tend to think in a more far mode.

      • Than what about this claim: — youth and old-age are far compared to middle-age.

        We’ve long known that power tends to induce far mode.

        I think the key report is (It’s hard to imagine Robin thinking of 7 years as a “long time.”) But this report links far-mode to right hemispheric activation, whereas I think Robin links the left hemisphere (as a first approximation) to far-mode–based on the well-supported finding that left-hemisphere activation is associated with positive mood and on the “covert” nature of right-hemisphere function.

        I think Robin’s view of construal levels is distorted by this misalignment, which also keeps Robin from being able to predict what will be near or far and having to rely on ad hoc results.

  • 4496B32C

    How about this hypothesis then : occidental countries have been havens for freedom and open-mindedness not because of democracy -as is usually claimed-, but rather because our countries were richer. Now I wonder what effects this longer than usual recession might have on our lofty values. Does it seems to anyone like freedom of expression and the like have taken a hit recently? Like how the Internet is more and more policed and censored by several governments (including European and American ones) around the world?

  • Nogamens

    “our era’s thinking”

    Will the ‘dreamtime’ come to a halt? – either disruptively or not so and for whatever reason. Will there then be a shift (sudden or gradual) to mass near mode thinking? It seems that the rise of ‘rationality’ will likely shift ‘world thinking’ away from the ‘dream-time’. Rationality implies that world thinking will strike a balance between near and far consistent with optimal social and other outcomes we care about. If the correlation between the deluded dream-time and the widening of moral circles is structural I suppose we’ll never come to love our machines after all…

    • The “rationality” of our “rationalists” is near-mode. This would be clear were it understood that near-mode depends particularly on the brain’s left hemisphere (and far-mode, in a particular way, on the right hemisphere. (See my previous comment to this posting.)

      When our “rationalists” speculate about the far future, they apply near-mode methods to far-mode problems–mainly the near-mode methodology of extrapolation. Compare, for example, the kind of far-mode reasoning that led Karl Marx to predict communism and the near-mode thinking that leads Robin to posit future ultra-capitalism. (In my terms, Marx is a Utopianist who relies on far-mode thinking (uses his right hemisphere at critical junctures) whereas Robin relies on near-mode thinking (purely left hemispheric– see my Ideology Types series — )

  • komponisto

    This may be a good candidate explanation of the status-makes-you-stupid effect (see “High Status and Stupidity: Why?” on Less Wrong).

  • komponisto

    Also, this is related to Michael Vassar’s most recent Edge essay.

  • I did a search on OB for Dreamtime, and it netted an interesting group of posts. But I don’t see what leads Robin to conclude that our late-industrial civilization is far-mode oriented. Robin seems to base the idea that we’re deluded in a distinctively far sort of way from what he takes to be our excessive optimism about the distant future. Even if this is due to far mode (to me it seems based on near-mode extrapolation), it doesn’t prove that we are generally dominated by an outsized far mode, inasmuch as nobody really much cares about the distant future.

    On the merits of the various forecasts: hypothetically granting Robin’s technological projections, whether we’ll be reduced to Malthusian misery seems to depend entirely on the prospects for economic centralism, i.e., world socialism.