Are you a cynic? By â€œcynicâ€ I am not referring to the school of ancient Greek philosophers founded by Antisthenes, who had an elaborate contempt for ease and pleasure. I am asking whether you are a cynic in the modern sense; someone who believes that people are motivated purely by self-interest rather than acting for honourable or unselfish reasons. At a societal level cynicism is quite in vogue as evidenced by the way we all delight in deploring our political leaders at every turn. There might seem good reason for our cynicism but what is it costing us? At a social level the costs are many and at an individual level too many things are lost when idealism and optimism are absent. In fact, according to a new study, one very tangible things that individuals lose when they are cynical is money.
The study in question was in fact a review of many separate pieces of research looking at the link between cynicism and economic success.
The first two studies analysed had examined the link between cynicism as measured by responses to a personality questionnaire and income level at a later date. One study involved 1,146 people and the other involved 497 people and both took place in America. Both studies showed that a high level of cynicism was associated with a lower level of income.
Another study came from Germany and involved 16,000 people and after nine years of follow up showed that people with high levels of cynicism earned an average AU $384 per month less than those with low levels of cynicism.
Then a final study looked at survey data from 41 countries to see how universal the negative link between cynicism and money may be. This study found that the negative link between cynicism and money was strongest in countries with higher levels of altruism, lower homicide rates, and lower levels of overall societal cynicism. There were some countries where cynical people did not earn less than their less cynical peers but those were countries where general cynicism was high, prosocial behaviour like giving to charities was low, and anti-social behaviour was widespread (as evidenced by high homicide rates): these are countries where cynicism might not only be justified but functional.
In more benign communities however, the cynic is less likely to trust others and therefore miss opportunities for co-operation. The cynic is more likely to negative construe other peopleâ€™s motives and therefore be less likely to join collaborative efforts or to ask for help in times of need. Cynics are also more likely to devote energy to protecting themselves, covering their back, resulting in a loss of job focus.
In other words, especially in places like Australia, and even if there are things and people to be wary of out there, you are better off being an optimist and believing in the best because in the end cynicism is just not worth it.