MIND
June 2, 2015

Why Cynics Earn Less

A multinational study finds that in most places, cynics cooperate less and earn less money than their more optimistic peers.

Cynicism isn't just bad for your heart and general well-being, a new study suggests that it's also bad for your wallet.

Having a cynical attitude can limit your earning power, according to a series of studies done in the U.S. and Germany.

People who were rated as more cynical earned, on average, $300 less per month nine years later.

In two studies in the United States, people filled out questionnaires about their attitudes. One study looked at their incomes nine years later; the other looked at participants' incomes after two years. In both studies, high cynicism was associated with lower income. And while money isn't everything, having a little more probably couldn't hurt.

In Germany, 16,000 people were tracked for nine years. Those who were rated as more cynical earned, on average, $300 less per month nine years later.

In the first piece of good news for cynics to come out of this research, when researchers looked at survey data from 41 different countries, they found that cynicism did not always lead to lower income, though it did so more often than not.

The relationship between personal cynicism and lower income was strongest in those countries that have a culture that values altruism and a more positive outlook.

Cynical individuals are less likely to trust others and therefore pass up opportunities for cooperation.

“There are actually some countries where cynical individuals do not necessarily earn less than their less cynical compatriots,” the researchers add. “These countries are those with pervasively high societal cynicism scores, rare pro-social behavior (e.g., charity donations) and widespread antisocial behavior (as indicated by high homicide rates) — in other words, countries where cynicism might be justified or even somewhat functional.”

Macedonia was, by far, the country where cynics appeared to do the best, followed by Russia. Italy was the country where cynics seemed to do the worst.

Why do cynics rarely prosper? There are several possible explanations.

Cynical individuals are less likely to trust others and therefore pass up opportunities for cooperation. At work and at play, they are more likely to be suspicious of other people's motives, less likely to collaborate and may even avoid asking for help when they need it. Employees who don't trust their co-workers are unlikely to be good team players. They are more interested in making sure that their back is covered than in doing their job well.

This is hardly the first study to show an advantage to looking at the world with a more trusting eye.

Giving people the benefit of the doubt can really pay off — from easing depression to increasing general health and happiness. Now it seems that this also extends to income.

For confirmed cynics who aren't interested in changing, there's always Macedonia.

The study appears in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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