Relative deprivation increases risky behaviors

relative deprivation

Researchers analyzed ‘relative deprivation’ – the sense that other people have things much better than you in life.

Having hope for the future can shield people with relative deprivation from risky behaviors such as drinking and gambling – based on new study from the University of East Anglia.

They wanted to find out why only some individuals undergoing this go to escapist and risky behaviors like drinking alcohol, taking drugs, over-eating or gambling, but some do not.

And they discovered that the answer lies in having hope for the future.

Postgraduate researcher Shahriar Keshavarz, by UEA’s School of Psychology, said: “I think most people have experienced relative deprivation at some point in their lives. It’s that feeling of being unhappy with your lot, the belief that your situation is worse than others, that other people are doing better than you.”

“Roosevelt famously said that ‘comparison is the thief of joy’. It’s that feeling you have when a friend buys a new car, or your sister gets married, or a colleague finds a better job or has a better income.”

“Relative deprivation can trigger negative emotions like anger and resentment, and it has been associated with poor coping strategies like risk taking, drinking, taking drugs or gambling.”

“But not everyone scoring high on measures of relative deprivation makes these poor life choices. We wanted to find out why some people seem to cope better, or even use the experience to their advantage to improve their own situation.”

“There is a lot of evidence to show that remaining hopeful in the face of adversity can be advantageous, so we wanted to see if hope can help people feel happier with their lot and buffer against risky behaviors.”

The research team carried out two lab-based experiments with 55 volunteers. The volunteers were quizzed to find out how much they feel relative deprivation and expect.

The researchers also triggered feelings of relative deprivation in the volunteers, by simply telling them how unfortunate they were in comparison with their peers, according to a questionnaire about their household income, age and gender.

They then participate in specially designed gaming games which involved risk-taking and placing bets with a opportunity to win real cash.

Dr Piers Fleming, also from UEA’s School of Psychology, said:

“The aim of this part of the study was to see whether feeling relatively deprived – elicited by the knowledge that one has less income than similar others – causes greater risk-taking among low-hopers and decreased risk-taking among high-hopers.”

“We looked at the people who scored high for relative deprivation, the ones that thought their situation in life was worse than those around them. And we looked at those who also scored high for hope.”

“We found that the volunteers who scored high for hope, were much less likely to take risks in the game. Those who weren’t too hopeful, were a lot more likely to take risks.”

Another experiment looked at whether hope helped people in the real world. They worked together with 122 volunteers who had gambled at least once in the last calendar year. The volunteers participate in questionnaires to gauge how hopeful they are, whether they feel relatively deprived and to measure problem gambling.

Of the participants, 33 had no gambling issues (27 percent ), 32 had low degree of issues (26 percent ), 46 had moderate degree of issues leading to a negative effects (38 percent ) and 11 were problem gamblers with a possible loss of control (9 per cent).

Mr Keshavarz explained: “When we looked at these scores compared to scores for hope and relative deprivation, we found that increased hope was associated with a decreased likelihood of losing control of gambling behavior – even in those who experienced relative deprivation.”

“Interestingly, our study found no significant relation between hope and gambling severity among relatively privileged persons. We don’t know why this is, but it could be that they are gambling recreationally or better able to stop when the fun stops.”

The research team state that nurturing confidence in people experiencing relative deprivation can shield against harmful behaviors like drinking and gambling.


Categories: Life