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Having a Little Faith in Humanity Could Pay Off, Study Finds

Researchers say higher levels of cynicism are associated with lower income levels.

By University Alliance on July 17, 2015
Researchers: Drop the Cynicism, Bump up Your Paycheck

Having cynical views on human nature may hit you where it hurts – your paycheck.

A new study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, is the first “to establish an association between cynicism and individual economic success,” the lead author told the American Psychological Association (APA).

Olga Stavrova, a researcher at the University of Cologne in Germany, noted that studies have linked cynicism with detrimental effects on physical and mental health, as well as marital adjustment. Conversely, optimism is often associated with positive impacts on heart health and other life issues.

Why might a cynical outlook adversely affect income?

Lower levels of health and education reported by cynical individuals are not enough by themselves to account for lower earnings, according to the May 2015 study. Rather, cynics are not as trusting and, therefore, are less likely to cooperate and collaborate with others. Additionally, such individuals may overinvest in resources to protect themselves from deceit and avoid asking for help.

“Therefore, overcoming cynical beliefs and building faith in humanity can help us enhance our financial well-being (by reaping the fruits of mutual cooperation and joint efforts) under most circumstances,” the researchers wrote.

The study, titled Cynical Beliefs about Human Nature and Income: Longitudinal and Cross-Cultural Analyses, analyzed data from previous studies examining cynicism and income level, according to the APA.

The degree of cynicism was measured by the participants’ level of agreement with statements such as, “Most people will use somewhat unfair means to gain profit or an advantage.” In one study conducted in Germany, the average monthly earnings of people with lower levels of cynicism were $300 higher than those of more cynical individuals.

Data from more than 40 countries revealed that this relationship was not present in nations with low levels of charitable giving, high levels of homicide and high societal cynicism. Those are places “where cynicism might be justified or even somewhat functional,” Stavrova said.

However, cynicism did not provide a financial advantage in those countries.

Overall, the link between cynicism and lower income was found to be most prevalent in countries where there were fewer homicides, more altruism and less cultural cynicism.

Stavrova said the study’s findings could spur people to embrace “a more benevolent and idealistic view of human nature and trustful attitude towards their peers.” 

Category: 2015 Headlines