Insatiable desires: How dispositional greed affects everyday life

Karlijn Hoyer

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Greed is the insatiable desire for more (Seuntjens et al., 2015). This desire can be felt for monetary and material possessions, as well as non-material things such as sex, friends, and status. Recent research has led to valuable insights about what greed is, how it operates and what its consequences are. Nevertheless, there is still much about greed that we do not understand, and there are still several important questions that remain unanswered, for example, what are the origins of greed, is it really the cause of financial scandals and crises, and what are its social consequences? This dissertation aims to uncover how greed affects everyday life. More specifically, it aims to understand more of the psychological mechanisms underlying greed and the financial, economic, and social consequences that greed has.

This dissertation is divided into three sections. The first section, “Becoming and Staying Greedy”, aims at getting a better understanding on how greed comes about and what it is good for. Research has shown that many psychological characteristics that are acquired during adolescence, are typically maintained in adulthood (Eccles et al., 2013). It turns out that a key predictor of several adult personality traits is how poor or wealthy people grew up (Griskevicius, Delton, et al., 2011). Chapter 2 looks at whether people that grew up in relative scarcity (the “scarcity hypothesis”) or relative luxury (“the luxury hypothesis”) tend to be greedier later in life. It is a replication of Liu, Sun, and Tsydypov (2019) in two other cultural contexts (The Netherlands and the USA) with large samples. The findings by Liu et al. were mostly replicated with support for the “luxury hypothesis”. A returning question in the literature on greed, in both the philosophical, religious and empirical publications, is whether greed is good or bad (see, for example, Oka & Kuijt, 2014). Chapter 3 examines whether greed leads to economic, evolutionary and/or psychological success, and as a secondary goal compares greed to self-interest. The study shows that greedy individuals have more economic success, sometimes more and sometimes less evolutionary success, and less psychological success, than their less greedy counterparts. Greed differed from self-interest in terms of economic success, and partly in terms of evolutionary success. They are similar in terms of psychological success.

In the second section, “The Greedy Trader”, I investigate in two chapters whether and how greed affects trading behavior. Greedy bankers and investors have become the culprits of the financial crisis, but empirical evidence for a contribution of greed to trading behavior was long lacking. Chapter 4 looks at individual trading behavior in experimental assets markets. Interestingly, I find no support for the idea that greedier investors trade assets fundamentally different from their less greedy counterparts. Birds of a greedy feather flock together, meaning that greedy individuals tend to be overrepresented in the financial sector. Chapter 5 divides people into markets populated by greedy and by non-greedy traders and compares their behavior. The findings suggest that greed might not contribute negatively to the emergence of financial crises. If anything, markets with greedy traders might even trade closer to true asset values (i.e., the fundamentals) than markets with non-greedy traders. Even though, these findings cannot be directly generalized to the behavior of (investment) bankers in the financial crisis, the question does arise whether the public opinion was too quick in playing the blame game.

Finally, in the third section, “The Greedy Friend”, I consider the social consequences of greed. More specifically, Chapter 6 investigates how greed is associated with various quantitative and qualitative aspects of social relationships, using both primary and secondary survey data. Based on the results of individual studies as well as a meta-analysis on results across studies, I conclude that greed significantly influences greedy people’s social lives, as they, for example, experience more feelings of loneliness, have shorter relationships, and objectify their friends more.

In sum, this dissertation found that growing up wealthy is related to higher levels of adult greed (Chapter 2), greed is related to more economic success, sometimes more and sometimes less evolutionary success, and less psychological success (Chapter 3), greedy traders do not trade fundamentally different from non-greedy traders (Chapter 4), groups of greedy traders trade closer to the fundamental value (Chapter 5), and greed affects social relationships in several ways (Chapter 6). The general picture that emerges is that dispositional greed develops during childhood and has economic/financial as well as psychological and social consequences, both positive and negative. Greed, the insatiable desire, thus strongly affects everyday life.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
  • Zeelenberg, Marcel, Promotor
  • Breugelmans, Seger, Co-promotor
  • van Dijk, E., Member PhD commission, External person
  • van Muijen, J.J., Member PhD commission, External person
  • Prast, Henriette, Member PhD commission
  • Sitskoorn, Margriet, Member PhD commission
  • Vingerhoets, Ad, Member PhD commission
Award date9 Sept 2022
Place of Publications.l.
Publication statusPublished - 9 Sept 2022


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