Why the human brain dislikes income inequality

New study explains why both rich and poor dislike inequality.

There's a fascinating new study out which finds that the human brain is hard-wired to dislike income inequality. A team of scientists from the California Institute of Technology and Trinity College Dublin have discovered that "the reward centres in the human brain respond more strongly when a poor person receives a financial reward than when a rich person does".

Perhaps most significantly, they found that this pattern of activity holds true even if the relevant brain is that of a rich person, rather than a poor person. As one of the scientists, Colin Camerer, explains:

In the experiment, people who started out rich had a stronger reaction to other people getting money than to themselves getting money. In other words, their brains liked it when others got money more than they liked it when they themselves got money.

This reponse is not motivated by pure altruism (something that basic evolutionary studies have shown to be impossible) but self-interest: the rich take pleasure in others receiving money as it reduces their guilt over having more than others. It's an apt reminder of the New Labour maxim that self-interest and the common good go hand-in-hand.

In light of these findings, it is perhaps not surprising that egalitarian societies such as Denmark, Finland and Sweden are among the world's happiest countries and, conversely, that highly unequal societies are among the world's unhappiest.

David Cameron is fond of citing the book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, which makes just this point, and of going on to insist that conservative means can produce progressive ends. But it's hard to see how his decision to prioritise an inheritance-tax cut for the richest 3,000 estates does anything to support this claim.

This latest study offers further proof, if needed, that Britain will become a more unequal and unhappy country if the Tories win.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Tory Brexiter Daniel Hannan: Leave campaign never promised "radical decline" in immigration

The voters might not agree...

BBC Newsnight on Twitter

It was the Leave campaign's pledge to reduce EU immigration that won it the referendum. But Daniel Hannan struck a rather different tone on last night's Newsnight. "It means free movement of labour," the Conservative MEP said of the post-Brexit model he envisaged. An exasperated Evan Davis replied: “I’m sorry we’ve just been through three months of agony on the issue of immigration. The public have been led to believe that what they have voted for is an end to free movement." 

Hannan protested that EU migrants would lose "legal entitlements to live in other countries, to vote in other countries and to claim welfare and to have the same university tuition". But Davis wasn't backing down. "Why didn't you say this in the campaign? Why didn't you say in the campaign that you were wanting a scheme where we have free movement of labour? Come on, that's completely at odds with what the public think they have just voted for." 

Hannan concluded: "We never said there was going to be some radical decline ... we want a measure of control". Your Mole suspects many voters assumed otherwise. If immigration is barely changed, Hannan and others will soon be burned by the very fires they stoked. 

I'm a mole, innit.